HK's a draw for pro athletes unwinding in post-season revelry

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 19 October, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 19 October, 2008, 12:00am

It seems Hong Kong, long a destination for people wanting to sample its fine food and stock up on luxury brands, has become a destination for a different breed of traveller: the professional sportsman with a bit of money to burn and a bunch of teammates who want somewhere to party at the end of a tough season.

Recent weeks have seen at least two Australian Football League teams, including champions Hawthorn, swing through the city in search of post-season follies, and by all accounts left well satisfied.

A spokeswoman for the West Coast Eagles football team, in Hong Kong for four days at the start of the month, said safety was a big reason it visited.

'It's a place which is well away from Australia - and definitely a place which is safe,' she said.

A source told the Sunday Morning Post that the teams had enjoyed going to clubs in Soho, Lan Kwai Fong and Wan Chai.

But one bar owner on Wyndham Street said that while the boys from Hawthorn were good for business, he would not send out invites for another visit.

'They ran naked down the street - and were noticeably hairless - and were quite rowdy in the bar.'

The reason for the city's popularity with the Australian footy fraternity, said Craig Francis, president of the Hong Kong Dragons Australian Rules Football Club, was that it had developed a reputation for being able to cater to pretty much anyone.

'There's a realisation that Hong Kong is a lot more than just a shopping precinct,' Mr Francis said. 'It's small; you can get around easily and keep the team together; it's safe; there's no fights; and they have a degree of anonymity.'

The trend started with the North Melbourne Kangaroos a few years ago. 'They just had a really good time and it sort of filtered back through the players' network,' Mr Francis said.

Hawthorn media manager Clinton Brown said the choice of Hong Kong had a lot to do with the range of activities the city offered, including the iconic Wednesday night races at Happy Valley.

Star player Shane Crawford was 'very big into his horses, so obviously that was a big draw', Mr Brown said.

'Our team is very differently behaved to, say, the boys from the [National Rugby League] or your average footy team. They like the good things in life: good food, good bars and good nightclubs. But they're not really into your typical trashy holidays in, say, Thailand or Bali.

'The boys these days have a bit more money and they want to do it in style,' Mr Brown said.

'The choice of Hong Kong more has to do with the sophistication of the place and its location as a bit of a hub destination before they jet off to [Las] Vegas or London.'