Olympic Sevens should be an inspiration
Like them or not, the Hong Kong Rugby Sevens have become an institution. They may be associated with foreigners, and frowned on by rugby traditionalists. Staid citizens may not embrace the carnival atmosphere and spectators' antics. But during the few hectic days of competition and partying, they garner worldwide publicity and hundreds of millions of dollars for our economy.
What set this year's tournament apart, however, is that it was also a celebration of the Sevens' emergence as a world version of the game. The founders 35 years ago could not have imagined that they had also started something that would be the springboard for this form of the game to go global. That has not quite happened yet, with 117 countries affiliated with the international rugby authority compared with more than 200 members of the Olympic Games movement. But it seems inevitable now that sevens rugby has been accepted as an Olympic sport for the summer Games in Rio in 2016.
There is nothing like Olympic recognition to globalise a sport. International rugby officials concede that the Hong Kong Sevens were instrumental in achieving it. It is also an acknowledgment of sorts that already Olympic powerhouse China and 2016 hosts Brazil have put out feelers for the coaching services of Hong Kong Sevens legend Gordon Tietjens, mentor of the successful New Zealand side.
The Sevens have, over the years, been increasingly embraced by the local Chinese community, which is better known for its passion for the 'world game' of soccer. Their Olympic recognition should inspire those who campaign for the government to do more to improve Hong Kong's recreational and sporting facilities, and lift standards of competitive achievement. Meanwhile, the visiting nations that dominate the Sevens on the field should be gearing up for greater competition now that nations such as China, America and Brazil are taking the game more seriously knowing that Olympic gold is soon to be on offer.