HK Sevens put on ice in favour of World Cup
There will be no Hong Kong Sevens in 2005. Instead, the Hong Kong Rugby Football Union (HKRFU) has decided to go ahead only with the IRB Rugby World Cup Sevens and shelve its own tournament.
'There will be only one international sevens tournament in 2005. We have decided that Hong Kong cannot support two major sevens tournaments in one year. It would not have been sustainable,' said John Molloy, HKRFU chairman, yesterday.
This decision raises the distinct possibility that the home team could miss out playing in front of their own fans in 2005. International Rugby Board (IRB) tournament director Fraser Neill said recently that Hong Kong might have to qualify for the fourth Rugby World Cup Sevens.
The union's board of directors met on Monday night, where they took the decision to hold the 2005 Rugby World Cup Sevens at the end of March in place of the Hong Kong Sevens. There had been hopes in some quarters that the Hong Kong Sevens would be moved to October.
'We are taking the same approach as in 1997 when we hosted the second Rugby World Cup Sevens. In that year we did not have the Hong Kong Sevens,' said Molloy. Hong Kong were given automatic entry that year. The shelving of the 2005 Hong Kong Sevens will also mean that smaller Asian countries will miss out as all 24 teams for the World Cup Sevens will have to qualify - with the only exception being holders New Zealand and possibly hosts Hong Kong.
'We will go with a 24-team tournament again. But we will have to look at the aspect of the host nation qualifying automatically. I wouldn't make a 100 per cent commitment to Hong Kong being automatic qualifiers,' said Neill.
HKRFU executive director Allan Payne said this was an issue which would be raised when IRB officials were in town for the March 28-30 Credit Suisse First Boston Hong Kong Sevens.
'As hosts, we will want our own team to play in the tournament. This is something top of our priority list and which we will be discussing with the IRB.'
Neill revealed that the qualifying competition for the next World Cup Sevens would start in early 2004. England won the inaugural World Cup Sevens back in 1993 in Murrayfield, Scotland. Four years later, Fiji stormed to victory in Hong Kong. The third World Cup Sevens was won by New Zealand in Mar del Plata, Argentina. According to Molloy, the HKRFU had carried out extensive research into the prospect of holding both the World Cup Sevens and their own tournament in 2005 and had discovered that it would not be financially viable.
'We carried out significant research with overseas travel agents, the local tourist association, other rugby boards and the IRB and found out that we wouldn't be able to sustain two tournaments. We also get a tremendous level of corporate support for the Hong Kong Sevens. But we realised it would be difficult to get it twice in one year.'
Molloy meanwhile revealed that the decision to go ahead with only the Rugby World Cup Sevens in 2005 was not linked to the on-going sponsorship talks with Hong Kong Sevens title-sponsors Credit Suisse First Boston (CSFB).
The current three-year sponsorship deal expires with this month's Hong Kong Sevens. Both parties are currently in the process of negotiating another package which could be up to 2006.
'We are looking at three years. The new sponsor could be for 2004 and 2006 and maybe a significant part of the Rugby World Cup Sevens in 2005. For instance, if CSFB signs on, the 2005 tournament could be called 'Rugby World Cup Sevens by CSFB' so that they keep their involvement all he way through. We hope to finalise the new sponsorship deal before the Hong Kong Sevens.'
Tickets for this month's tournament are selling out fast, say organisers. 'Only another 12,000 tickets remain. We have sold 28,000 which includes corporate seating,' said Molloy.