Hong Kong, February 21 2008: The Hongkong and Shanghai Banking Corporation Limited and the Asian Rugby Football Union (ARFU) today announced the introduction of a major innovation in Asian Rugby, the HSBC Asian Five Nations Series (HSBC A5N). Daisuke Ohata, the top try scorer in international test match rugby attended today’s press launch at the iconic HSBC Main Building in Central, Hong Kong.
Ohata holds the world record for most tries scored in test rugby with 69 from 58 caps for Japan. Local rugby fans will remember his incredible pitch-length try at the death of Japan’s Plate Final match against Scotland in 1999, a feat that earned him that year’s Best and Fairest Player Award at the Hong Kong Sevens. Joining him today were players from the three other Asian rugby unions participating in the opening weekend of play in the HSBC A5N Top 5 competition in 2008: Diarmud O’Malley of the Arabian Gulf Rugby Football Union; Andy Yuen of the Hong Kong Rugby Football Union and Young hun Han of the Korea Rugby Union. Also attending were Sandy Flockhart, Chief Executive Officer of HSBC Asia Pacific and Ross Mitchell, Honorary Secretary General of ARFU.
Commenting on its latest sponsorship, Sandy Flockhart, Chief Executive Officer, HSBC Asia Pacific, said: “HSBC is proud to be able to sponsor the Asian Rugby Football Union to launch an exciting new regional rugby event in 25 Asian countries and territories. The three-year sponsorship demonstrates HSBC’s strong commitment to Asia and our ambition to grow this emerging sport in an emerging region.”
Ross Mitchell, Honorary Secretary General of ARFU said, “The Asian Five Nations has inherited a significant legacy in taking over from the Asian Rugby Football Tournament and, with the assistance of one of the world’s great sports sponsors HSBC, every effort will be made to ensure it becomes an important and prestigious event in the regional and international rugby calendar.”
“The Tournament is vital for the development and expansion of rugby throughout Asia and will give our elite players the chance to perform in front of a significantly expanded TV audience, whilst providing a platform for development at all other levels,” added Mitchell.
Mark Egan, Head of Rugby Services for the International Rugby Board said, “The HSBC Asian Five Nations will be the flagship Tournament for Asia, serving to promote and raise awareness of the Game in the region at all levels, while also providing a competitive competition and development structure for all participating unions. It is an exciting development for the Game in a region that offers significant potential for growth.”
Remarkable for its scale and inclusiveness, the HSBC A5N features four tiers of elite competition across 25 Asian rugby unions with promotion and relegation opportunities for participating teams.
The Top 5 competition will be played across a five-week, single round robin home and away format featuring the Arabian Gulf, Hong Kong, Japan, Kazakhstan and Korea. Test matches will be held on consecutive weekends throughout April and May 2008.
Reflecting the scale of this new initiative, the ARFU is securing a six-week TV package on a leading regional broadcaster to further increase the profile and awareness of rugby throughout the region. The package will feature a match of the week for the five Top 5 competition weeks and a 1-hour tournament highlights programme, representing the first time that ARFU has secured a regional TV broadcast package for its showcase tournament.
As proof of the uniquely inclusive nature of HSBC A5N, the last placed team in the Top 5 competition in 2008 will be relegated to the 2009 Division I competition to be replaced by the top placed team in Division I. The promotion and relegation policy will also be in effect for the Division I and Division II competitions, guaranteeing an equal share of the spoils for Asia’s most progressive unions.
Reflecting the tournament’s official sanctioning by the International Rugby Board (IRB), selected matches will be branded as IRB Rugby World Cup qualifiers starting this year. The IRB has also funded the HSBC Asian Five Nations with a ￡240,000 IRB grant.
Today’s announcement marks the latest chapter in the long and distinguished history of rugby in Asia, the fastest growing region in world rugby. In the last ten years, the membership of ARFU has more than doubled from 10 unions in 1998 to today’s 25, making Asia one of the hotbeds for growth in international rugby.
The Hongkong and Shanghai Banking Corporation Limited is the founding and a principal member of the HSBC Group which, with around 10,000 offices in 83 countries and territories and assets of US$2,150 billion at 30 June 2007, is one of the world’s largest banking and financial services organisations.
About the Asian Rugby Football Union:
The Asian Rugby Football Union (ARFU) is the governing body of rugby in Asia under the authority of the International Rugby Board. Founded in 1968 by eight charter nations, the Union today has 25 member nations in countries across Asia, stretching from the Arabian Gulf to Uzbekistan. The aim of ARFU has never changed: “to raise physical and moral standards in Asia by education in the healthy pursuit of Rugby Football and to promote friendship among Asian countries.” ARFU also supports regional and pan-Asian tournaments, including women’s, men’s, and under 19’s competition in both sevens and fifteen-a-side rugby. ARFU is also deeply committed to the popularization and spread of the game across the region and supports youth rugby and team, coaching and referee development.