Packer 'no threat to World Sevens'
SENIOR Rugby World Cup directors yesterday brushed aside the effect that Kerry Packer's intended rebel circus would have on the 1997 World Cup Sevens in Hong Kong.
Sir Ewart Bell, chairman of Rugby World Cup Ltd (RWC), said that he was confident that future International Rugby Football Board (IRB) tournaments would survive the Packer threat confronting them.
'To be the best in the world is what everyone wants. And the World Cup Sevens will offer players and teams to be the best at sevens. And being the best sevens team in the world will be something which everyone will aspire to,' said Sir Ewart.
Hong Kong rugby officials are afraid that the Packer deal, if it comes off, will rob next year's Hong Kong Sevens and the 1997 World Cup Sevens (on March 22-23) of the Jonah Lomus of world rugby.
But the top RWC officials are confident that players and fans will continue to look at established tournaments as the yardstick of glory.
Addressing a press conference yesterday to reveal details of plans for the 1997 World Cup Sevens, Sir Ewart said he did not fear the loss of the big-name players to Packer - if it happens. 'Whatever structure others have, we are extremely confident that our tournaments will survive simply because we are the only body which can offer a credible world tournament.' Sir Ewart said that the 1997 World Cup Sevens - which will be the first world tournament after the current revolutionary moves - had nothing to fear from Packer.
'The Packer circus will not be any problem to us,' added Dr Nic Labuschagne, another of the five-strong executive body of the RWC Ltd who met with officials from the Hong Kong Rugby Football Union over the last three days to thrash out details including compensation for the local Union, tickets, sponsors and other commercial aspects.
All 67 Unions of the IRB have been invited to take part in the 1997 Hong Kong tournament which will be the second of its kind (the first was held in 1993, in Murrayfield, Scotland).
According to Dr Labuschagne, 46 Unions had already expressed their interest in participating. The deadline for entry expires in a fortnight.
Organisers confirmed that there will be three qualifying tournaments - Lisbon in June 1996, Dubai in November 1996 and Uruguay in January 1997 - with 21 countries winning through to Hong Kong. Current World Sevens champions England, runners-up Australia and hosts Hong Kong automatically qualify.
To ensure that the qualifying tournaments are of an equal standard, sevens giants New Zealand (reigning Hong Kong Sevens champions), Fiji and Western Samoa will be placed in different tournaments. The organisers will allocate the teams to play in each of the qualifiers with the seeded participants drawn from various regions in the world. They will be seeded according to the current sevens world ranking.
'That will be how they finished at Murrayfield,' said Sir Ewart. 'We will also give financial support to countries so that they can participate in the qualifiers.' While both the RWC directors and Hong Kong rugby officials were in harmony that the 1997 tournament would be 'Bigger and Better' than the Hong Kong Sevens, little detail was forthcoming on how the financial pie or tickets would be divided.
On the issue of tickets, all that RWC would say was that Hong Kong would receive less than 50 per cent of the total tickets available.
'It is a world event and it is only fair that a larger number of the tickets be made available to the world,' said Dr Labuschagne.
Hong Kong's senior official at the talks, Peter Duncan said: 'While we have already looked after the Hong Kong public, we have to recognise that this is a world event.' And on the topic of compensation, Sir Ewart said: 'Hong Kong will get a bigger and better deal than they get from their own tournament. We haven't worked out the details but we can assure that Hong Kong won't be jeopardised financially by the 1997 World Cup.' Meanwhile, it is estimated that the tournament will make a profit 'four times more than what the Hong Kong Sevens made'.