Rugby World Cup Sevens

Sevens' success primes it for Olympic debut

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 02 April, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 02 April, 2006, 12:00am

Hong Kong's claim to be a 'world city' is linked to its economic achievements and the hard work and enterprise of its people. An event that comes around this time each year reminds us that there is a lighter side to it. The event is of course the Hong Kong Rugby Sevens.

The celebration of a game invented in England and exported to its former colonies may seem an unlikely attraction for an Asian international city. But the Sevens has become one of Hong Kong's greatest success stories and best-known brand names - the model for Sevens tournaments around the world.

This weekend it has made a triumphant return home. It has confounded predictions that following the Rugby Sevens World Cup played in Hong Kong last year, enthusiasm for this year's tournament would be anti-climactic, but it was sold out two months ago.

Any remaining doubts that it would continue to go from strength to strength were swept away on Friday night when a record first-night crowd filled the south stand at Hong Kong stadium to capacity. With the finals to be played today before an expected crowd of 40,000, it looks like it could be the best tournament in Sevens history.

The Rugby Sevens, first held in Hong Kong 30 years ago, has captured the world's imagination and fuelled the growth of a fast, exciting and unpredictable sport. This is not just because of the sporting excellence on display. It is the carnival atmosphere at Hong Kong Stadium that makes the event so special.

It is one big party. More people than ever - including children - are making it an occasion for dressing up in silly costumes, singing and dancing and generally having a good time. They are fuelling the fun by munching on tens of thousands of meat pies and sinking about 100,000 litres of beer - the traditional Sevens fare.

At the same time, they still appreciate what is happening on the pitch and demonstrate their good humour by championing the underdogs. Unlikely Sevens debutantes Madagascar, for example, found it had a ready-made fan club.

With crowds of up to 40,000, it all sounds like a recipe for over-exuberance and a potential headache for security staff at the stadium. But in truth they do not have lot to do to keep order and, in keeping with the spirit of the event, have time to enjoy the fun and the football themselves.

Hopes that Rugby Sevens would become an Olympic sport in 2012 have been dashed. But the good clean fun of the Sevens remains a format for taking rugby to mass audiences of ordinary people.

In these days of full-time professionalism and the fight to keep drugs out of sport, it would not be a bad thing for the International Olympic Committee to remember the positive aspects of the Sevens when its bid for inclusion in the Games comes up again.