Rugby boss backs HK bid for '97 World Cup
INFLUENTIAL rugby official Keith Rowlands has backed Hong Kong to stage the 1997 World Cup Sevens - but organisers may first seek approval from China.
Rowlands, secretary of the International Rugby Football Board, yesterday met with officials of the Hong Kong Rugby Football Union, who hope to stage the tournament after the Chinese take over in July 1997.
Scotland hosted the inaugural tournament this year and the International Rugby Football Board will decide at their October 21 annual meeting on the viability of a second World Cup Sevens.
And Rowlands, who yesterday visited the new 40,000-seater national stadium now under construction, believes Hong Kong would be the ideal venue.
''My impressions are very favourable,'' said Rowlands. ''The stadium is a world class facility and is possibly the finest venue that rugby football could be played in.
''If the tournament goes ahead, Hong Kong are clearly favourites. I can think of no better place to have this tournament than Hong Kong.
''If it is held in October 1997, we may go to the Chinese Government to get their understanding and agreement that the event should take place.
''We will say what we are trying to achieve and what the advantages are to Hong Kong, China and the world.'' However, Rowlands said the IRFB had envisaged the tournament as a replacement for the Hong Kong Sevens, normally held in spring and which, in 1997, would be before the Chinese takeover.
''We never envisaged that it would be before July 1997, but I understand from the Hong Kong union that it is an option that is open.'' The option to stage it in October 1997 throws up the possibility of Hong Kong staging two major events, the Hong Kong Sevens and the World Cup Sevens, either side of the Chinese takeover.
However, HKRFU chairman Stuart Leckie said: ''We don't know that for sure at the moment.
''It is not only Hong Kong's decision. It will be up to the IRFB as well.'' But Leckie is convinced that Hong Kong is the best venue for the World Cup Sevens if the tournament is given the green light.
''I think sevens is an ideal game to introduce people into rugby,'' said Leckie. ''In Scotland, there were four teams from Asia taking part in a 24-team event.
''Hopefully, if we host another World Cup, five or six Asian countries can qualify.
''Hong Kong is very keen to encourage rugby in China. China is in the process of forming their own union.
''And there is no reason why China should not compete in the qualifying rounds of the 1997 World Cup Sevens.'' Rowlands is hopeful that the major rugby unions will agree to stage a second World Cup Sevens following what he says was a financially successful inaugural tournament in Edinburgh.
''There are several factors in deciding whether or not a second one is viable.
''The first tournament was very successful. To organise a tournament for 60 rugby football nations is in itself a success. And we made a profit.
''I can't think of any reason why the Scotland tournament cannot be deemed a success, other than it was very cold.
''I believe that a second tournament of this nature is possible. I'm also a strong supporter of sevens rugby and believe that it plays an important part in the development of the game,'' Rowlands added.
Hong Kong has no major rivals to host the event.
Australia recently withdrew its intentions to hold the tournament and has subsequently thrown its support behind Hong Kong.
The New Zealand Rugby Football Union have gone as far as suggesting that the territory remains as the permanent venue of the World Cup Sevens.
Leckie yesterday presented Rowlands with Hong Kong's proposal and will put in an official bid when - or if - the IRFB decide to stage a second event.
Many longstanding rugby officials in the territory believe Hong Kong has played a major part in the promotion of sevens as an international sport.