Rugby Sevens fans deserve a better deal
The Hong Kong Rugby Sevens risk being a victim of their own success. Last year the number of tickets for public sale was slashed from 5,000 to 4,000 amid howls of protest from ordinary rugby fans. Sevens enthusiasts were left to wonder, yet again, where the tickets were going when Hong Kong stadium holds 40,000. It is a measure of popular demand that reaction to a simultaneous 20 per cent price rise from HK$1,250 to HK$1,500 was relatively mild.
The Hong Kong Rugby Football Union maintained the reduced allocation this year, even though it owes its financial well-being to historically strong public support for the Sevens. The reason for the reduction is the same - a greater allocation of tickets to the growing rugby community nurtured by the union. Even so, the allocation to rugby clubs falls short of demand.
The union can defend its priorities, even from a community perspective, because participation in the playing and organising of sport is to be encouraged. Instead of allocating more tickets, it has gone some way towards meeting public criticism by introducing a new system that should not be as easily exploited as online sales or queuing by scalpers who sell on tickets and overseas applicants. A public ballot to be drawn on February 7, open now until February 4, is aimed at ensuring everyone gets a fair and equal chance of buying a maximum of two tickets each. Applicants will have to supply details of a valid Hong Kong ID card and postal address for registered mail or courier services. Foreigners and touts can use friends to get around that, but not the uncertainty of a ballot.
Nonetheless, making the event more exclusive by allocating fewer tickets for the public does nothing for the image of the Sevens as a family event that has become a Hong Kong institution. Sadly, by the time the proposed new stadium at the old Kai Tak airport site is ready in about eight years, demand for tickets may have overtaken any extra capacity. The rugby union can only keep seeking a better deal for ordinary fans lest the public comes to see the Sevens as an exclusive club.