Rugby-Samoan sevens sides stranded in Dubai after missing Olympic qualification

MELBOURNE, July 1 (Reuters) - Samoa’s national rugby sevens teams are stranded in Dubai after missing out on qualification for the Tokyo Games, a Samoan Olympic official said on Thursday.

The Samoa Observer newspaper reported players and staff from the men’s and women’s teams were denied passage on a repatriation flight from Dubai to New Zealand after an “apparent failure” to comply with the Samoan government’s COVID-19 health requirements.

“I know they’re stuck in Dubai at the moment,” Samoa’s Olympic President Patrick Fepuleai told Reuters by telephone.

Fepuleai said he understood there was a problem with the players’ blood tests but referred further queries to the Samoan rugby federation, who were unavailable for comment.

Daniel Leo, director of the Pacific Rugby Players Welfare group, said he had been in contact with the sevens cohort and they were holed up in a hotel in Dubai.

“There is only one repatriation flight a month into Samoa,” the former Samoa international told Reuters.

“They have to wait until July 27 for the next one.

“If they had qualified (for Tokyo) they probably would have been welcomed back with open arms.”

Leo said World Rugby and the United Arab Emirates rugby federation had offered support to the teams.

World Rugby was unavailable for comment.

Samoa on Thursday pulled its home-based weightlifting team out of the Tokyo Olympics, citing COVID-19 curbs, but said other Samoan athletes based overseas would represent the Pacific nation at the Games.

Reporting by Ian Ransom; Editing by Peter Rutherford