Rugby boss rejects legal option in stadium dispute
By NAZVI CAREEM
HONG Kong rugby supremo Stuart Leckie has rejected advice calling for legal action against the Urban Council as a last-ditch method of wresting control of the new stadium for next year's Sevens.
Legal action was suggested in a confidential document to the Hong Kong Rugby Football Union highlighting three areas where the Urban Council was alleged to have acted beyond its jurisdiction.
But Leckie said going to court is not an option in the Sevens organisers' continuing battle to win control of the 50 executive boxes, which stadium managers Wembley International will next month put on the market to interested corporations.
Leckie wants Wembley and their employers, the Urban Council, to free the suites during the Sevens weekend on March 26 and 27 for the Union's loyal patrons who have supported the prestigious tournament over the years.
''I absolutely deny that there is any intention of going to court,'' said Leckie. ''We are not trying to exacerbate the war of words.
''Since the problems with Wembley became public, we have been bombarded with advice and ideas from Hong Kong and overseas.
''We have to apply good judgment and commonsense and I can't see how going to court will be of any good to anybody.'' The document states that ''there is a statutory scheme for the use of the stadium and the Urban Council cannot operate outside of it, whether by contract or otherwise''.
The proposal raises three key issues: The legality of the Urban Council's contract with Wembley, which may be in breach of its statutory powers.
The Urban Council's right to charge rental fees of $150,000 per day or 20 per cent of the gate, whichever is higher. According to the legal advice, the Urban Council ordinance requires fees for public facilities to be cost-related and dependent on the cost of services provided.
That the HKRFU have a legal right to exclusive use of the stadium based on the goodwill built up over the years.
The legal advice says the Union have had unhindered and exclusive rights to the stadium during the Sevens week for the past 11 years and that the Urban Council cannot, without good reason, unilaterally take away that privilege.
Leckie, however, is still determined to secure the executive suites for the tournament by other means.
The Sevens moved from the Hong Kong Football Club to the stadium in 1982. The stadium was torn down after the 1992 event for a $850 million Jockey Club-financed refurbishment, which will see a new 40,000-seater facility standing atop So Kon Po by March next year.
This year's Sevens was held at a 33,000-capacity, partially-built stadium. Construction was halted to accommodate the Sevens and two Viceroy Cup soccer matches.
Sevens organisers were hoping they would continue to have unconditional use of the new stadium.
But the Urban Council said they will not sway from policy, saying the executive suites are for companies who want them on a long-term basis and no concessions can be made for a single event.
Wembley have proposed that companies who lease suites but who are not interested in the Sevens may be persuaded to sub-let their seats to Union patrons for the tournament.
This is the best deal Wembley are likely to offer, although it does not sit well with the Union chairman.
Said Leckie: ''It's far from perfect. Our responsibility as organisers is to provide the best for our patrons.
''People have come up to me and asked about the suites, but I haven't been able to give them any guarantees.'' Leckie stressed, however, that the relations between the organisers and Wembley have improved significantly since early June, when the tournament was put in doubt.
''We are less far apart than before. The suites remain a problem but what a lot of people don't realise is that we have come to agreement on many other issues.''