The case of the missing tickets
It would take a modern-day Einstein to figure out the vexed issue of ticket sales at the Hong Kong Sevens. According to the Hong Kong Rugby Football Union, 75 per cent of the 40,000-seater stadium will be filled by local people. If that's the case, then why the barrage of criticism rugby officials have come under these past few days? An irate public poured scorn on the HKRFU's decision to reduce the number of tickets, which went on sale online to a mere 4,000.
This was the last straw for many who had stoically stomached a 20 per cent price hike to HK$1,500 for the March 23-25 showpiece. The increase would have been bearable if tickets were readily available. But a disgruntled public soon found out that hours of fruitless attempts to buy tickets online were to no avail last Saturday.
To borrow Einstein's equation, E=MC2, we can surmise from letters to our editor and talk on the street, that emotion (E), running high, was equal to mass (M) and chaos (C) squared. The public is angry. The HKRFU has lost a load of goodwill and a lot of friends.
Online ticket sales have been a frustrating exercise for the past couple of years. One needs all the patience of Job just to call up the home page of the ticketing agent. This has been exacerbated by the reduction in the number of tickets - by 1,000 from last year. There might come a day when a public ticket sale is redundant, with all the tickets being pre-allocated and pre-sold to vested interests.
If only 4,000 tickets were available to the public, there was also a reduction in numbers to the solid core of people who support rugby all year round - the clubs and their members. As one reader pointed out, in past years, parents of mini-rugby kids were allowed to buy their children's tickets as well as their own. It seems the HKRFU now favours one-parent families, for this time only one adult ticket could be bought along with a child's ticket.
This begs the question: where did all these tickets - 1,000 from the reduced public quota plus that culled from the clubs, the second adult ticket - end up? And how come the HKRFU still claims 75 per cent of the tickets will be taken up by Hong Kong people? You don't need to be a rocket scientist to figure out the HKRFU has taken from one hand and given to another - from the public domain to its sponsors and corporate backers.
Cathay Pacific has always claimed a sizeable allocation of tickets, which it sells to its travellers worldwide. Book a flight from Colombo to Johannesburg, and you will be also able to get a ticket for the Sevens. With HSBC returning this year - the bank is also the title sponsor of the nine-leg International Rugby Board World Series - it is probable that a large number of tickets have been allocated to them.
Trevor Gregory, the chairman of the HKRFU, refused to divulge the breakdown of the 40,000 seats at the Hong Kong Stadium. Like a true English rugby player, he would only dabble in the percentage game and all that we got from him was that 75 per cent of the tickets would end up in the hands of 'local residents'.
It seems if you are a high-end client of HSBC or a frequent flyer with Cathay Pacific, you will be assured of a ticket. For the rest of us who travel in cattle class and have to stand in line with the masses at the teller counter, we have to rely on luck and the vagaries of an automated machine to be able to partake in one of the world's best sporting tournaments.
This has rubbed many people the wrong way. Gerry Coley from Sham Tseng, who has been a supporter of the Sevens for the past 15 years, says he has given up on the HKRFU. How many more like him are out there? These are the people who backed the tournament in the bad old days of Severe acute respiratory syndrome (Sars). Now they are turning their backs on the tournament, frustrated at a system which seemingly ignores the small man.
We have cried wolf for so many years on this issue. But who is the Big Bad Wolf? Is it the HKRFU, or title sponsors Cathay Pacific and HSBC? The HKRFU's role is to fill its coffers through the Sevens as this money is ploughed back into the community in the form of increased facilities and support to its players. The sponsors have the right to ask for their pound of flesh - without them the tournament would be in jeopardy as other sports in Hong Kong have discovered.
This leaves the Hong Kong government ultimately holding the baby. If we had a bigger stadium the demand could be met. So until a 50,000- or 55,000-seater arena is built at Kai Tak, this cycle of woe will continue.