Sevens for Shanghai as IRB gives China the ball
In an effort to woo the Chinese Olympic Committee and to further their long-term plan of promoting the game on the mainland, the International Rugby Board (IRB) has awarded the Chinese Rugby Association a leg of the World Sevens Series.
The Shanghai Sevens, on April 8-9, will be the sixth stop for the 10-leg World Sevens Series which is in its second year.
And for the first time, Twickenham and Cardiff will host the last two events.
'Shanghai was chosen as part of the IRB's mission to take the game to new territories,' said IRB chief executive Stephen Baines. 'This series has an exciting line-up of tournaments in wonderful venues around the world.'
Shanghai's entry is no surprise. The IRB is keen to see that rugby becomes a medal sport at the Olympics. And with Beijing bidding for the 2008 Summer Games, rugby officials hope to build ties on the mainland and with the Chinese Olympic Committee.
'With both Beijing and Osaka bidding for the 2008 Olympics, it is natural that the IRB holds events in both countries,' said Jamie Scott, secretary general of the Asian Rugby Football Union.
The Shanghai Sevens will follow closely on the footsteps of the Credit Suisse First Boston Hong Kong Sevens which will be held from March 30 to April 1. The Hong Kong Sevens have again been given prominence by the IRB with the Series points increased by 50 per cent.
The new calendar shows that half of the 10 tournaments will be held in Asia. Apart from Hong Kong and Shanghai, the other venues are Dubai (November 23-24), Kuala Lumpur (April 21-22) and Tokyo (April 29-30). Like Shanghai, the Malaysian capital will also be making its debut.
Once again, Asia is seen as an important part of the IRB's long-term plans to get rugby back into the Olympics. There are 44 Olympic council members in Asia and this could be a decisive bloc vote if and when the International Olympic Council decide on rugby's participation.
'The fact that half the tournaments this year will be played in Asia is also a reflection of the depth of sevens tournaments in this part of the world and the support Asia has given world rugby,' said Scott.
Kuala Lumpur's introduction of sevens rugby at the Commonwealth Games in 1998 while both sevens and 15s were played for the first time at the last Asian Games in Bangkok in 1998. The 2002 Asian Games in Pusan will have rugby as a medal sport and rugby will feature at next year's World Games in Akita, Japan.
This year's World Seven Series will begin in a fortnight in Durban, South Africa. The Hong Kong Rugby Football Union, as hosts of a leg, have the right to play in two other events unless invited by the IRB to take part in more. The SAR will play in Dubai in a tough group comprising Australia, Samoa and Kenya.