Hong Kong Sevens


PUBLISHED : Sunday, 25 March, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 25 March, 2007, 12:00am

The Sevens is one of Hong Kong's top tourist drawcards, and if you spend a weekend in the thick of it you realise why - it is the city's answer to the Mardi Gras.

Even the players will tell you the unique atmosphere - part carnival, part tournament - brings the best out of them on the pitch, the crowd's energy acting like a dose of sporting Viagra.

Every year the debate recurs - is it the sport or the sideline antics that are the essence of the Sevens?

Former Wallaby Chris 'Buddha' Handy, television commentator and a popular speaker on the after-dinner circuit, is adamant it's not just the players who make the event. The 'X factor' that turns the Sevens into this city's best annual party is 'camaraderie', he insists.

'Nick Farr-Jones, Australian Wallaby captain for the winning World Cup side in 1991, refers to 'the third half' of rugby,' says Handy. 'That's the part after the first half and the second half of the game - the half that's played out by the supporters.

'It's the bit everyone can do. It's about the singing, the dancing, the camaraderie, and the good-looking women, the party and the fun the whole family can join in. When they do so, they enter into the bigger family of rugby.'

Perhaps at no other sporting event do people enter into this spirit of community and make mates like they do at the Cathay Pacific/Credit Suisse Hong Kong Sevens. They might be people you have got to know from sitting in the same area in the West Stand for years on end. Or families whose children have played mini-rugby together. Or office co-workers who have dragged you and a dozen colleagues into the South Stand and out of your buttoned-down business suit.

It's not just about rugby. Some say it's not about rugby at all so much as having a great time no matter where you're from and no matter how much - or how little - you care about the game.

The Sevens is the chance to realise why you live in Hong Kong. For three days straight you can forget about the pollution and you're afforded maximum gloating rights over anyone in the stadium around you who had to fly in as a lowly tourist. This is the place you choose to live in. You get to tell visitors your favourite post-Sevens bars and sightseeing spots. And you can give them the lowdown on important debates such as: South Stand v corporate box; or Lan Kwai Fong v Soho v Wan Chai.

And then there's the great opportunity to showcase the Hong Kong lifestyle to visiting family and mates. In Sevens week sofas all over Hong Kong fly open to reveal hidden mattresses that poke out like an All Black's tongue during the Haka.

Everyone has their own Sevens experience. All are great tales to be told and memories to be relived. And central to so many of those memorable moments are the troupes of colourful, often bizarrely attired spectators in all manner of fancy dress.

The costume phenomenon has long been a tradition of the Sevens and last year's 30th anniversary tournament saw it hit new heights of imagination and eccentricity.

The big theme in 2006 was aviators, with more than 100 in total, and at least four separate groups who had all independently come up with the same flyboys (and girls) idea. There were men kitted as Singapore Airlines flight attendants, a cockpit and cabin crew all decked out in turquoise, a Top Gun squad (complete with fighter-pilot's helmets) and an 'Officer and a Gentleman' group in pristine whites.

New 'characters' last year included Austin Powers, aka Gary Brown from Wellington, New Zealand, who was a virgin to Sevens in Hong Kong.

'I've been to Sevens in LA, Wellington and South Africa, but never Hong Kong. I like the fact it's free seating and there are people from so many nations - it's unique,' said Brown, a professional Austin impersonator who performs as the shagadelic British spy about 150 times a year.

As a born extrovert he was in his element. Like the 'real' Austin Powers, perhaps he'd been in cryonic suspension to have missed all the Hong Kong fun for 29 years.

Continuing the British theme, but in a more blue-blooded vein, were nine 'suits' (bankers, lawyers and actuaries) - costume regulars all - who chose the South Stand as their Royal Box for the big weekend as they dressed up as matching queens (of the Royal Highness variety) in masks, white dresses with blue sashes, and matching white handbags. The Queens grew hotter and wilted more in their satin frocks and plastic masks as the Saturday turned out a scorcher.

Among the better (printable) banter lines of the weekend was one Queen saying of another: 'Yeah, he's got his own private box. It's called the toilet.'

One group whose costume achieved worldwide notoriety, thanks to the miracle of YouTube, were four young Hongkongers in penguin suits whose outfits chimed nicely with the hit animated movie Madagascar. Not only did the quartet mirror the movie's popular characters but the theme song from the film proved the surprise unofficial in-stadium hit of the weekend. 'We were practically suffering heatstroke by the end of Saturday,' recalled one of the Penguins, lifelong Hong Kong resident John Abel. 'We were proud of our outfits, but there was no way we could even contemplate putting inches of heavy black lycra padding back on for Sunday.'

Their post-Sevens dance-off with the equally bizarre-looking Bundy Bears was immortalised in the media here and around the world and can still be seen at YouTube on www.youtube.com/watch?v=Dvf9o2u9Hnc.

There were Bay City Rollers, a squad of Mr Incredibles, a troupe of costume designers in St George flag dresses, numerous court jesters, Canadian Mounties and a team of middle-aged Camilla lookalikes with riding crops who trotted around the stadium on fake fur horses.

And accentuating the similarity to Mardi Gras, were perennial favourites, the South American girls, in sequined bikinis and traditional headdress plumes, looking as though they had come fresh from the Rio Carnivale or a Miss World Pageant's national costume segment.

By Sunday, despite the dress-up crowd's utter exhaustion, the spirit was still 'the show must go on' and the accompanying banter continued to sizzle - typifying the mateship that helps make the Sevens unique.

Perhaps the menagerie was best summed up by Roy, of the comedic commentary duo Roy and HG, who said: 'Hong Kong is a great part of the world. There's nowhere to walk, nowhere to drive but, especially at Sevens weekend, there's everything to do.'