Pitch invaders to be arrested at the Sevens

PUBLISHED : Friday, 25 March, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 25 March, 2011, 12:00am

His antics may have sent revellers wild at last year's Hong Kong Sevens, but the man who led security staff a merry dance when he climbed the goalposts at the Hong Kong Stadium has forced organisers to get tough on people who invade the pitch this year.

For the first time in Sevens history, anyone who enters the playing area who should not will be arrested by the police. In the past, pitch invaders were just thrown out of the stadium; only streakers were formally arrested.

Organisers' patience has run out with pitch invasions, which had almost become an accepted part of the event, particularly on Sunday when the tournament draws to an end and the most important matches are played.

This year, the Hong Kong Rugby Football Union, Leisure and Cultural Services Department and police have joined forces to make sure the sanctity of the playing area is fully enforced.

'We are genuinely concerned about safety,' union chairman Trevor Gregory said. 'There are too many invasions now. If that guy had fallen off the crossbar last year, there may have been a serious injury.

'We can't allow the public to endanger themselves, or for them to endanger the security staff or the players with this kind of behaviour. Unfortunately, it means this time if it happens it will lead to prosecutions. We're using this as a deterrent.'

A department spokesman confirmed the union's stand, saying that the move was geared towards making spectator safety a priority and to avoid any unnecessary injury to fans.

The incident that led to the crackdown happened last year when a fan side-stepped a number of security staff and climbed up the goalposts in front of the South Stand. He stood on the crossbar for a while, with security staff looking up helplessly, before scrambling down. He evaded further tackles by security staff, then jumped a barrier and disappeared into the crowd.

It sent the fans in the stadium crazy, but it was a dangerous prank. If the crossbar had broken while he was standing on it, he could have been seriously injured. And a broken crossbar would have meant the tournament was over, too.

Gregory said other measures were being taken this year, such as making pitch barriers bigger and harder to get over, but the organisers had to go a step further. 'It's simple - the pitch area is for the playing of the game, not for people to go running on the pitch,' he said. 'If they want to go running on the pitch, they should try out for the Hong Kong team.'

Chief Inspector Paul Edmiston, who will be part of the police action squad at the stadium, said there had not been many breaches from the notorious South Stand over the past 10 years. People invading the pitch generally now came from the East and West stands, and tended to be teenagers doing it for a laugh.

'To be fair, the majority of fans want to watch the rugby and enjoy themselves, but it has got worse over recent years,' he said. 'When the guy climbed up the goalposts last year it was the straw that broke the camel's back.'

Edmiston said it was generally younger fans who invaded the pitch after being put up to it by friends.

'By not enforcing the rules we're encouraging this behaviour, so the rules just have to be enforced,' he said. 'It's not a nice way for young people to finish their Sevens if they have to phone their parents to say they've been arrested for invading the pitch.'

On Monday, parents with children at West Island School were all sent an e-mail highlighting the change concerning pitch invasions.

'Could I urge you to talk to your child if they are attending the Sevens to make them fully aware of the situation,' Principal Jane Foxcroft said in the e-mail.

Pitch invasions also disturb the teams psyched up to play who then must endure delays. In past years some of the players have even grappled some invaders to the ground.