Hong Kong (AFP) - The remainder of this year's World Rugby Sevens Series has been cancelled over the coronavirus, the sport's governing body said on Tuesday, with the flagship Hong Kong tournament among five events called off.
Tournaments in Langford in Canada, London, Paris, Singapore and Hong Kong will not be played this year, with the men's and women's titles both awarded to pacesetters New Zealand.
"The decision follows detailed and constructive dialogue with the host and participating unions, and has been taken with the health and wellbeing of the rugby community and the wider public as top priority," a World Rugby statement said.
Hong Kong had been due to be the final stop of the rejigged sevens calendar after it was moved from its traditional April slot because of the pandemic.
The Hong Kong Sevens, which had been held every year since 1976, is an important source of revenue and prestige for the city which has endured severe political upheaval over the past year, as well as the coronavirus pandemic.
"While it is very disappointing for players, fans, organisers and everyone involved to have to cancel these events due to the global COVID-19 pandemic, the health and wellbeing of the rugby community and wider society remains the number one priority," said World Rugby chairman Bill Beaumont.
"These difficult decisions have been taken following detailed consultation with our union partners and in line with advice from the various government and public health agencies around the world."
- 'Extraordinary circumstances' -
Hong Kong rugby officials expressed disappointment at the demise of their tournament, which has been scheduled to return in early April.
The colourful, three-day tournament is the signature event of the World Sevens Series and was a driving force behind rugby's return to the Olympics in 2016.
"We are of course disappointed not to be hosting the world-famous Hong Kong Sevens for the first time in 45 years," Hong Kong Rugby Union chief executive Robbie McRobbie said in a statement.
"But we understand the extraordinary circumstances surrounding today's cancellation of the remainder of the series."
Like other sports, COVID-19 has played havoc with international rugby, with all July Tests cancelled.
The southern hemisphere-based Super Rugby competition has also been suspended and temporarily replaced with domestic tournaments in New Zealand and Australia.
The premature end of the sevens season hands the All Blacks their 13th title after they won three of the six tournaments possible before play was halted.
New Zealand lost only three games along the way and led the standings with 115 points, 11 ahead of second-placed South Africa.
The Black Ferns, New Zealand's women's team, seal back-to-back titles after winning four tournaments in a row in Dubai, Cape Town, Hamilton and Sydney to top the table by 16 points.
"While this probably isn't the way the teams would have liked to claim the series titles, it is a reflection of the impressive form they were in," New Zealand Rugby chief executive Mark Robinson said.