HKRFU caught off guard by Asian Games ruling

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 25 August, 2005, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 25 August, 2005, 12:00am

Hong Kong's rugby officials and selectors have been thrown a dummy pass and caught off guard after picking the national squad for the forthcoming Singer-Sri Lankan Airlines Sevens on the basis that it was a qualifying tournament for the Asian Games in Doha next year.

A squad comprising players, who are either of Asian and Chinese parentage or locally-born, was formed two months ago on the understanding that the September 9 to 11 tournament in Kandy, Sri Lanka, would be an Asian Games qualifying event.

But Jamie Scott, the SAR-based secretary general of the Asian Rugby Football Union, told the South China Morning Post yesterday that the Sri Lankan tournament would not be a qualifier for Doha, as it was an International Rugby Board (IRB) Asian satellite event.

'It was on the table in the beginning as a qualifying event for the Asian Games, but it is not now as it is an IRB event and as such has different eligibility rules. The qualifying process for the Asian Games is a matter for the Doha organisers,' revealed Scott yesterday.

This revelation has caught the union completely on the wrong foot. Usually they pick the senior squad on the more lenient IRB eligibility requirement of three years residency. But thinking that is was an Asian Games qualifier, selection had been based on different criteria.

'This is just crazy. We were under the impression that it was going to be an Asian Games qualifier and as such it was logical to pick players who were eligible to play in the Asian Games. Now we hear that it has nothing to do with the Asian Games,' said selector Ian Brownlee.

Rowan Varty, Ricky Cheuk and Alex Gibbs are the only players who played in this year's World Cup Sevens who qualify under the Asian Games rules in the present squad.

They were thoroughly beaten by China in a series of warm-up matches last weekend.

Hong Kong head coach Ivan Torpey was left equally amazed by the turnaround that has left his Asian Games build-up in tatters. 'Our programme for Sri Lanka has been based around the fact that it was a qualifying tournament for the Asian Games,' Torpey said. 'It would have been completely different if we knew it was not so.'

But Torpey said Hong Kong would stick with the current squad, to be finalised on Saturday, as it was too late to make changes, and also because be felt that preparations had gone well - despite a nine-game loss to the China national team last weekend.

'The Chinese are very strong. We didn't win any of the nine games we played although our performance improved as we went along,' said Torpey. 'It is too late to make any changes, even though we know now that it is not an Asian Games qualifying event.'

The Sri Lankan tournament will comprise 12 teams from Asia. South Korea are the favourites to win the Cup competition. 'We don't know how the IRB plans to pick the eight teams that will play in Doha next year. Originally they said our tournament was supposed to be a qualifying event but that has changed. Officially it is not a qualifying tournament, but maybe the IRB might use it in the end to rank the teams for Doha,' said Priyantha Ekanayake, president of the Sri Lankan Rugby Football Union.

The Asian Games next year will have sevens as a medal sport. Eight teams will participate of which one spot will be filled by hosts Qatar. South Korea won the gold medal at the last Asian Games in Pusan in 2002 while Taiwan took silver and Thailand the bronze. Hong Kong finished bottom of the eight-team competition.

Hong Kong squad: Andy Yuen, Mark Wright, Ryan McBride, Jeff Wong, Liu Kwok-leung, Alex Gibbs, Rowan Varty, Lai Yiu-pang, Tsang Hing-hung, Li Chi-yung, Ben Ho, Jarrad Brownlee, Fan Shun-kei, Lo Kwok-wai, Chan Yiu-yu, Ricky Cheuk, Kwok Ka-chun.