IRB unseats Sevens' 'white knight'

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 23 March, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 23 March, 2011, 12:00am

Swiss financial giant Credit Suisse has been prevented from continuing its long-term association with the Hong Kong Sevens by the International Rugby Board, according to top rugby official Trevor Gregory.

Described by Gregory as 'knights on white chargers', co-title sponsor Credit Suisse's 14-year relationship with the biggest sporting event in Hong Kong will end on Sunday. This is due to the world governing body taking on board financial rivals HSBC as title sponsors of the IRB Sevens World Series last year.

'We owe Credit Suisse a deep debt of gratitude,' said Gregory, chairman of the Hong Kong Rugby Football Union. 'They had wanted to continue sponsoring the Hong Kong Sevens, but unfortunately we cannot oblige because of the IRB's rules.'

Dumith Fernando, Credit Suisse, Asia-Pacific's managing director and chief operating officer, said: 'We would have liked to have continued as in the past, and I know the union didn't have any issues with us carrying on.'

But the IRB's strict rules preventing any other financial institution having a presence have killed any hopes of the investment bankers continuing as co-sponsors along with Cathay Pacific.

Credit Suisse saved the Hong Kong Sevens from virtual penury in 1998 when it stepped in to replace financial institution Peregrine just weeks before the tournament.

Peregrine had come in after both HSBC and Cathay Pacific chose not to continue as backers after the 1996 tournament. The IRB Rugby World Cup Sevens were held in 1997. It was believed Peregrine had paid HK$30 million for a three-year sponsorship deal but weeks after the deal was inked, the firm was forced into bankruptcy by the Asian financial crisis.

'Credit Suisse were the knights on white chargers who came to our rescue,' Gregory said. 'We are where we are thanks to them and we will miss them. But we need to move forward.'

Gregory said normal practice was for the existing sponsors to get first bite at continuing. And Credit Suisse had wanted to.

But last October, the IRB signed a landmark five-year deal with HSBC to headline its Sevens World Series from the 2010-11 season. The Hong Kong tournament, this week, will be the only leg where there will be no presence for the bank due to Credit Suisse's involvement. But all that will change next year with the sponsorship ending on Sunday.

'This year, and this year only, we will be able to have links with another financial institution simply because of our existing agreement,' Gregory said. 'When the IRB contracted HSBC to sponsor the World Series, that precluded any other financial institution from having a presence.

'The IRB has a host-union agreement with each tournament, and one of the conditions under which we are allowed to contract sponsors is that we cannot take on board any rivals to HSBC. This is the way it goes. If the IRB had signed on an airline for instance, then it would have prevented us from having any links with Cathay Pacific,' Gregory said.

The IRB refused to comment.

'When we heard about it [HSBC coming in as sponsors of the IRB series], I wouldn't say it was a shock. These things happen in the business world. At the end of the day, very few people have a perpetual business relationship,' said Fernando.

'We stepped in to save the event in 1998. I guess 14 years is a good payback period for us.'

Gregory said: 'We will make a presentation at the Sevens to Credit Suisse in honour of their support for the past 14 years.'

It is now believed HSBC will also step in as joint title sponsors, with Cathay Pacific, of the Hong Kong Sevens next year. Giles Morgan, group head of sponsorship at HSBC Holdings, had earlier said: 'We are happy with backing the IRB World Series and the Asian Sevens Series rather than individual tournaments. HSBC has a long-standing heritage in rugby, and is excited about investing in such a thriving area of the game.'