ISSN: 1391 - 0531
Sunday, November 05, 2006
Vol. 41 - No 23

Disappointed rugby fans will have to wait

By Vimal Perera

The Sri Lankan fan who likes his rugby more than most others in the region would have been disappointed with the postponement of the Asiad. They would have been eagerly expecting to see the performance of the local team who has been climbing the ladder of success in the recent past. They will not have the satisfaction of seeing the home team take on the Asian teams that would have been vying for the plate. At least it will not be in November.

Equally disappointing will be the postponement and shifting of the venue for the Rugby World Cup qualifying 3rd round matches which were to be played in Sri Lanka among the Asian giants Japan, Hong Kong and Korea. This would deprive the Sri Lankan the opportunity to witness rugby played among the teams that are the best in Asia. The serious nature of these matches could only be emphasized that the IRB appointed two top referees from the International Panel and one from the touch judge’s panel to referee and to run touch.

The press release of the IRB goes as follows; “The International Rugby Board Executive Committee today announced the postponement of the 2006 Asian Rugby Football Tournament that was scheduled to be held in Colombo, Sri Lanka on November 18-25. The decision was taken due to the current security situation in Sri Lanka.

Furthermore, the Rugby World Cup Board has determined that the Asia Rugby World Cup 2007 Round 3 Qualification matches between Japan, Korea and Hong Kong – that were due to be played as part of the Asian Rugby Football Tournament – should be rescheduled. The Rugby World Cup Board will make a decision in the coming days regarding alternative arrangements for the completion of the Asia Round 3 qualification matches.

As the governing body of the Game the IRB has wider obligations that require it to take into account security issues relating to participants. In this respect the IRB sought advice on the security situation in Sri Lanka following concerns expressed by several Participating Unions.

The recommendation made to the IRB was that in the present climate the tournament should not go ahead. The IRB and the Asian Rugby Football Union (the IRB’s Regional Association in the region) will continue to monitor the situation and a decision on the rescheduling of the tournament will be made at an appropriate time

The 12-team tournament was to involve Japan, Korea, Hong Kong, Singapore, Malaysia, Kazakhstan, Sri Lanka, Arabian Gulf, Thailand, Chinese Taipei, India and China.”

This would mean that the Asiad 2006 as well as the Annual General Meeting of the Asian Rugby Football Union will take place in 2007. What guarantee does one have to be certain that the International body will see that the situation in January has improved and the Tournament will go ahead in January 2007 as planned for by the Sri Lanka Rugby Football Union.

It is believed that Japan who had reservations earlier had indicated their willingness to come to Sri Lanka. This time around it is Hong Kong and Singapore who had voiced their reservations. Is it possible that there is more to the hesitancy of Hong Kong than the concerns of security? It is a known fact that we have had issues and at the same time there have been other sporting and international events that were held in Sri Lanka during the past. In none of this situation have there been a threat to the participants.

Would Hong be more at ease if at least one of the matches is shifted to their country? Is this part of the agenda? Hong Kong has in the past faced the possibility of the sevens being cancelled with the epidemic of SARS in 2004. The Beijing leg of the sevens was in fact cancelled due to the spread of SARS. So they are aware of the financial mess it will leave when last minute changes are made.What ever it may be the hosting of the Asiad and clearance will not be easy passage. The Union will have to do lot of home work to promote the venue as safe among participating countries. The Union cannot be alone in this issue. They will need the support of The National Olympic Committee, the Ministries of Sports, Defense and Foreign Affairs.

The IRB no doubt will go on the advice of its security consultants but the Union through the relevant ministries can push the issue. The action at present possibly leads to Sri Lanka getting isolated on sports events and therefore need to be supported at the highest level.

The Asiad will see probably Japan Korea and Hong Kong playing and possibly to a different format. Yet what guarantee will Hong Kong want to come to Sri Lanka. The proposed tournament will not reach the same intensity among the giants unlike when The RWC qualifying round matches where a place for the 2007 World Cup games was at stake. Still a championship among the Asian Countries will be a worthwhile event.

Did the IRB ever consider that they have dashed the expectation of the Sri Lankan rugby fan? Rugby in Sri Lanka would have drawn more crowds than most other Asian Countries bar may be Japan. Concrete evidence is the numbers that attended the Asiad in Bangkok in 2002 as well as in Hong Kong in 2004 if one compares to the attendance in Sri Lanka for some Club as well as school matches.


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Copyright 2006 Wijeya Newspapers Ltd.Colombo. Sri Lanka.