Hong Kong Sevens

Alvin Sallay

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 05 September, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 05 September, 2010, 12:00am

Richie McCaw was quite blunt and did not try to cushion the blow. Asked if there was the possibility the Bledisloe Cup would one day be played in Singapore, the All Blacks captain said it was unlikely. 'When I was there once, it was really hot and I don't know if I would want to play there,' said McCaw, the hottest player in world rugby right now.

He would change his mind if he had known the Singapore government last week agreed to stump up HK$7 billion for a sports hub in Kallang that will include an all-weather 55,000-seater stadium. This state-of-the-art stadium will have a retractable roof which will control the temperature inside the venue. Cooling vents will blow chilled air from holes under each seat, enough to chill McCaw's brow if he is still around in 2014, when the facility is expected to be completed.

This news has already sent icy shivers down the necks of officials at the Hong Kong Rugby Football Union who fear they will soon face stiff competition in their bid to attract top-class international teams to town.

The Bledisloe Cup in October at the Hong Kong Stadium is the result of the union's promise to hold a second top-quality event - next to the Hong Kong Sevens - every year. It is regarded as a second revenue-generating tournament, one that will continue to fuel the lofty ambitions of the game's governing body.

This ambition is to make Hong Kong a 'rugby city'. They want to see the game continue to flourish in the local community. That is the aim from the grass roots to the elite level.

On the international playing front, the goal is for Hong Kong to qualify for the 2016 Olympics when sevens is played for the first time. And also for the 2019 World Cup when the tournament is played for the first time in Asia - Japan.

Hong Kong has also made clear its intent to host a few games of that World Cup, and this is another major objective. Apart from this last goal - which will depend on the government ensuring that the new Kai Tak sports hub is up and running by 2018 - all the others will depend on how much money the union has in its coffers.

Every cent derived from the cash-cow Hong Kong Sevens is ploughed back - in one way or another - into the game, be it at the grass-roots level or for the national teams. This is why the union hopes fans will turn up in their droves to support the Bledisloe Cup on October 30. It is another money-spinner, but it is money which is spent well.

A bum on a seat is the best way of showing your support for the game's development.

Tickets for the Bledisloe Cup haven't been in such great demand, both locally and internationally, as they were two years ago, when the All Blacks and Wallabies played their first historic off-shore game at a neutral venue.

The union's executive director, Rob Knight, puts it down to a number of factors. He says local sales are slow because people are still returning from their summer breaks. 'We are about 25 per cent behind what we were at this same stage last time. There has not been so much urgency, but we expect things to pick up soon.'

Overseas ticket sales, especially in New Zealand and Australia, have also been sluggish. This is most probably due to the fact that tickets for the 15-a-side World Cup in New Zealand next year have gone on sale and people are forced to choose between the two.

Australian fans, meanwhile, will be fed up with the bashing their team have received this season in the Tri-Nations. They seem to be everyone's bunny, especially the All Blacks, who have already clinched the Bledisloe Cup for the eighth straight year with wins in Melbourne and Christchurch.

The 2-0 scoreline in the four-match series makes it game over as far as the Bledisloe Cup title is concerned. But local officials are hopeful the Wallabies will win the Sydney encounter next Saturday, and spark renewed interest in the final game.

However, fans shouldn't look at it this way. We are starved of top-quality games. The fact that we have the opportunity to witness two of the best teams in the world in action should be enough motivation to buy a ticket. New Zealand are the top team in the world, while Australia are ranked number three. You don't get the chance to see two of the best teams face off in your backyard every day of the year.

'I would go a long way to see two of the best teams in the world in whatever sport, be it beach volleyball or baseball, if they were playing,' Knight says. 'I would want to see the best athletes ply their craft,' he says.

Even though the Bledisloe Cup is in safe keeping for another year, McCaw promised the game in Hong Kong would be a no-holds barred affair. 'It is a test match and we don't like losing them,' he said.

Yes, tickets might be a tad more expensive than last time. But if you are a true sports fan, and not one of those once-a-year people who only turn out for a booze-up at the Sevens, the opportunity should not be missed. You will also be helping a good cause - promoting rugby in Hong Kong. Once Singapore's new sports hub is up and running, it will give teams like the All Blacks and the Wallabies another option, another city to take their Bledisloe Cup brand to. That won't happen until 2014. So make the most of this opportunity.