Hong Kong Sevens

Hats off to the magnificent Sevens

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 28 March, 2004, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 28 March, 2004, 12:00am

The Hong Kong spirit takes many forms. Today, one of the best known displays of this enduring quality will reach its annual climax. It is known around the world as the Hong Kong Rugby Sevens.

To some, this annual three-day event might seem a strange way of promoting our city. There would be few complaints about the action on the pitch. There, we see players from nations as diverse as Georgia, Kenya and the US exhibiting the finest qualities - athleticism, endeavour, skill and good sportsmanship.

But what about the rather different activities taking place in the stands? The serial beer drinking and gluttonous pie-gobbling, for example. Or the general indulgence in juvenile behaviour, from wearing silly costumes to performing ridiculous dances. The occasional streaker makes the picture complete.

While there are usually a few examples of conduct which goes a little too far, in general the behaviour can be described as good, relatively clean fun. Without such revelry, the tournament would not have gained its unique status.

Such antics contributed to the event's reputation as an exclusively expatriate affair. And when Hong Kong's return to China approached, there were some who believed the Sevens might go the same way as British rule. Thankfully, this was not the case. The tournament has gone from strength to strength.

It is worth recalling that when the Sevens was first conceived in 1975, one aim was to promote rugby in Asia. Consequently, the tournament, first held the following year, has always featured a number of Asian teams. Fittingly, China made its first appearance in 1998. And efforts are now being made to encourage more of Hong Kong's Chinese residents to take an interest.

The tournament has also had an impact on the sporting world. From relatively modest beginnings, it soon captured the imagination. In 1994, a new stadium was built to meet the demand for seats. And the Sevens has fuelled the development of this exciting form of rugby internationally. It is now the most prestigious event in an eight-tournament world circuit. More than any other sporting occasion, it has put Hong Kong on the map.

As the Sevens has grown in popularity, economic benefits have flowed. More than half of the 40,000 watching the final today will be big-spending visitors from overseas.

The well-organised event has also helped to improve our city's record when it comes to staging high-profile international events.

The Sevens trumpets Hong Kong's status as an international city. It simultaneously promotes sporting excellence and an unbridled sense of fun. After 28 years, it can stake a claim to be our city's most successful brand.