The draw for the Asian Qualifiers for the Rio Olympics took palce in Hong Kong yesterday
The Hong Kong Rugby Union (HKRU) will host its first-ever Asian Region Olympic Qualifier tournament for rugby sevens on 7 and 8 November at the Hong Kong Stadium.
This is the first time that Hong Kong has played host to an Olympic team sport final qualification event. Twenty of Asia’s top rugby sevens teams – 12 men’s and eight women’s teams – will take part in the qualifier, including regional sporting powerhouses China, Japan, South Korea, Malaysia, Kazakhstan and Sri Lanka.
The winner of the men’s bracket in the competition will advance directly to Rio 2016, while the region’s top eight women’s teams will play in a two-leg series with the Hong Kong qualifier followed by a women’s-only competition in Tokyo, host city of the 2020 Summer Olympics.
Hong Kong Men’s Sevens team in action in Singha Thailand Sevens 2015.
Rugby Sevens will debut at the 2016 Summer Games in Brazil, creating an opportunity for Hong Kong’s men’s and women’s national sevens teams to make history by becoming the first local teams to qualify for an Olympic Games since men’s field hockey in 1964.
The Hong Kong Rugby Union is also using the Olympic Qualifier as a platform to promote other Hong Kong sports and athletes who are striving for the honour of representing Hong Kong at an Olympiad.
Working closely with the Sports Federation & Olympic Committee of Hong Kong, China, the Elite Athletes Association and a variety of National Sports Associations, the HKRU hopes to highlight the efforts and skills of Hong Kong’s sportsmen and women during November’s Olympic qualifier.
An “Olympic Avenue” will be established on the stadium concourses during the event to promote Hong Kong’s sporting community. This interaction will enable spectators to learn more about Hong Kong’s sports scene and promising athletes, while also inviting the community to rally behind the efforts of rugby and other sports to reach their personal and professional milestone of Olympians.
“We are honoured to have the privilege of hosting the first-ever Olympic qualifier for rugby sevens in Asia. Being awarded the right to host this unique competition recognises the instrumental role that Hong Kong, home of the world’s most famous sevens tournament, has played in growing the sport in the region and around the world,” said Pieter Schats, Chairman of the Hong Kong Rugby Union.
Vern Reid, Chief Executive Officer of the HKRU, added, “The rugby world is anticipating that the Olympics will be a transformative event in the sport of rugby worldwide. We hope that the qualifier in November will similarly be a boon not only to rugby but to sport in Hong Kong overall and will helps shine a spotlight on local athletes and the enormous sacrifices they make in their pursuit to represent Hong Kong at elite and Olympic level.”
Despite the intense competition, Hong Kong men’s and women’s teams are currently among the top contenders to qualify for Rio.
Hong Kong are the defending men’s Asian sevens champions at both senior and junior (U20) level, while the women’s team recently won their first-ever Asian Sevens tournament, beating both of the top teams in the region, Japan and China, en route to the title. The women are presently the top-ranked team in Asia.
The rugby sevens athletes at the Hong Kong Sports Institute are eagerly anticipating the challenge and have frequently commented about the importance of playing in front of their home audience on this pivotal occasion in Hong Kong sporting history.
“I remember playing at the Asian Games in Guangzhou and the China National Games. I thought that being in these major multi-sport competitions in my own country would be the highlight of my athletic career, but now the thought of being able to reach world sport’s highest stage in front of my parents and in my hometown is a huge motivation for me in my training and desire to make the team in November,” said local sevens star Yiu Kam Shing.
It is a sentiment shared by the women’s team. “The opportunity to participate in an Olympic Games is the ultimate dream for any athlete, and the thought of realising this once-in-a-lifetime goal in front of our families and friends is all that we could have hoped for,” said women’s sevens standout Cheng Ka Chi, who captained the team at the China Sevens in September when Hong Kong claimed a historic first Asian women’s sevens cup.