Ground rules for the Sevens
SEVENS gatherings are a crucial part of Hongkong's biggest sporting weekend for many, a sitting together of a group who might individually come from Rotorua, Pokfulam, Brisbane, Lantau or London.
These are people who do not exchange Christmas cards, or fax communications to each other. They may not turn up every year but when they do seek the usual crowd: a group which enjoys banter and beer and the occasional bet.
This is a vital element of the Sevens that the organisers and the sponsors are sometimes slow to understand. Not all of us have the credentials to say: ''See you in the Bank box around 2pm.'' Or the desire to do so.
The bun-fight for the ''cheap seats'' has been part of my Sevens since 1978. With the reconstruction of the Government Stadium, we are presented with a renewed challenge next weekend: orientation in the not-yet-completed venue.
After a recent site inspection and consultation with the organisers, I offer this 1993 Sevens guide for the average fan.
All tickets for the concrete benches are the same price: $320 per adult. This is up 6.5 per cent from last year which is not too bad. It is $130 for children under 12.
The tiered benches are designed to accommodate individual plastic seats which will not be in place until next year. The vertical difference between rows is not designed for bench seating so many spectators will find their knees up around their chest. As usual, bring or buy a cushion.
There is now no walk-around area between the stands and the pitch. This year, as in future years, it will not be possible to stroll around, looking up to the stands, waving at people, finding familiar faces. The ebb and flow of some 2,000 people around the pitch perimeter will be gone.
The East and West (left and right as we used to enter) stands are now three-tier. There is, on each side, the top shelf. This is a steeply-raked stand providing elevated views of the games. This year, it is a no-booze zone. It offers seating for about 12,000 spectators.
The ground capacity is only marginally up this year from last but Sevens fans who enjoy a jug as they watch the games will find a significant decrease in the number of seats where this is possible.
The top shelf has obvious appeal for those, particularly family groups, seeking relief from the excesses of the past.
Those on the top shelf will be able to have a beer by going down to the snack, soft-drink and bar concourse under the stands. There you cannot see the pitch but there will be television monitors set up in strategic positions relaying the action.
Some old Sevens hands say that the last thing you want is people walking up and down to rush down a beer, which this top-shelf ban might give rise to. The Black Watch Regiment stewards will be making a great effort to discourage this as the upper stands are very steep and will require reasonable caution and sobriety to negotiate.
The second row down, on the East and West stands, has a total capacity of about 4,000 spectators. These are plum seats offering elevated, close-to-action views. However, they are reserved for sponsors and patrons and those invited by one of the 98 companies who have secured a box.
Below that, there are seats which shelve gently down to the touch-line. There is no running track.
The large South Bank (I call it this although there is as yet no official name) at the scoreboard end or a smaller stand at the north end may be the answer for those who like to watch rugby from behind the try line. The South Bank stand should be the best place for atmosphere but not for view.
Apart from on the top shelf, beer will be available. Eighty women from four brewing companies will patrol the aisles. They will only sell light beers. But it will be possible to refill the jugs with regular draft from kiosks in the concourse.
Rain? We'll get wet. Most seats in the stadium will be covered but not until next year. If clouds are about, bring wet weather gear, not an umbrella. When umbrellas sprout, as happened last year in the open seating areas, no one can see anything of the action on the pitch.
Rain will also affect the decision on whether to hold the March Past as it will go around the edge of the grass playing area.
Drainage on the pitch has been improved so a repeat of the bog-like playing conditions of last year is unlikely. It is also hoped that the ground staff will not water the pitch overnight if there is a heavy downpour on Saturday afternoon and a forecast of rain for Sunday. Amazingly, this happened last year.
Access to the Stadium is ticket only, entering from the back of the stands. Children's tickets may still be available. Use contacts and friends to secure an adult ticket - if you don't already have one - but don't pay a dollar over $320. Tickets will come out of the woodwork near to the event.
If you are looking for a reasonable seat in the jug-zone you will need to be at the ground by 8am next Saturday. Any later than that on the Sunday and you are likely be up on the top-shelf.
It is no secret that the organisers, and the police, are particularly concerned about crowd safety this year. The New Year Lan Kwai Fong tragedy, although occurring under totally different circumstances to the Sevens, and the fact that the new stadium ishosting a major sporting event for the first time, has heightened sensitivity.
One thing's for sure. There's no mileage in complaints that ''they'' should have left things as they were. The old stadium had to go. Facilities had become both make-shift and antiquated. That a new stadium has been built to a sufficient level of completion to host the event this year, within one year, is surely an ''only-in-Hongkong'' phenomenon.
If ticket purchase next year restricts us to an individual seat and the restriction on numbers of tickets that can be bought remains, then this could be the last Sevens that we are able to sit in a group of friends. The end of the Sevens as I, at least have known and loved it.