Stalemate puts 1994 HK Sevens in jeopardy

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 16 June, 1993, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 16 June, 1993, 12:00am

NEXT year's Hongkong Sevens tournament is in doubt.

This grim prospect emerged yesterday after clear battle lines were drawn between the Hongkong Rugby Football Union and the Government-hired company brought in to manage the new stadium, Wembley International.

The stand-off over who will run the tournament is preventing traditional sponsors Cathay Pacific and HongkongBank from committing themselves for 1994.

Last night neither the Union nor Wembley looked likely to back down on the eve of the arrival of Sir Brian Wolfson, the Wembley International chairman.

Sir Brian has agreed to hold talks with Union chairman Stuart Leckie tomorrow.

The Union want Wembley International to hand over complete control of the Hongkong Stadium for a week to 10 days spanning the 1994 Hongkong Sevens on March 26 and 27 - an arrangement that has existed since 1982.

But Wembley, who have been commissioned to manage the stadium throughout the year, are only prepared to make minor concessions which are unacceptable to the Union and the sponsors.

A key issue is the hiring out of corporate boxes, with Wembley refusing to hand over control to the Union, who have been asked to make do with temporary boxes for their main two sponsors and around 90 other companies.

Wembley International managing director Robin Oram said: ''The major differences we have with the Union are financial ones. No comment can be made until our Board of Governors meet, but I don't think we will be handing over our executive suites to the the Rugby Union.'' The Urban Council have thrown their support behind Wembley. Acting director Randolph O'Hara said yesterday that the Wembley management policies towards the Sevens and other events at the stadium will be endorsed at a Board of Governors meeting next month.

These policies include Wembley taking over what the Union regard as their own tasks, such as the sale of tickets, catering and marketing of the event.

Wembley will also receive a substantial percentage of the profits, which they say will be put back into local sport.

O'Hara said: ''We have already given the Rugby Union some concessions that we would not give anyone else.

''They can construct temporary boxes and we have allowed them some perimeter advertising for 1994. We have to develop policies for other details like catering and marketing.

''The Stadium is not available on an event by event basis. You must look at a broader picture.

''When the Government agreed to a new stadium, it was decided to privatise it. It is hoped that it can be profitable and that any surplus is channelled back into local sport. Any loss is made good by the Urban Council.'' The Wembley International Board of Governors for Hongkong will include Sir Brian and seven Urban Council representatives. The chairman will be Urban Council chairman Ronald Leung.

Leckie said yesterday: ''The Union, Bank and Cathay need Wembley to be flexible in things like advertising, catering and things like that. And the boxes are very important. All we have had so far is talk.

''I know Wembley want to organise about 20 big events over a few years. But why can't they treat the Sevens separately and give the stadium to us at a fair price? I would think we could maximise the revenues that way.'' Neither Cathay nor the Bank are willing to commit themselves for next year's Sevens until the matter is resolved.

Richard Bennett, one of the Bank's representatives on the Sevens organising committee, said: ''We are very supportive of the Sevens and are keen to continue. It is frustrating as sponsors that we don't have the facts and figures as to what will happen next year.

''It is causing problems in terms of finalising our sponsorship although withdrawing does not come into the equation.

''Time is against us but we have not set a deadline.'' Cathay's public relations manager Phil Burfurd said: ''We have been part of the Sevens for a number of years and we would like to continue.

''We haven't set ourselves a deadline, but obviously, we'd like to see a solution as soon as possible. We have to wait and see what will happen. Until we know what we are getting into, we are not in a position to say anything.''