Hong Kong Sevens

Rugby matches compete with fans' antics

Despite the riveting action on the pitch, spectators are often distracted by the costumed circus on the sidelines

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 24 March, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 24 March, 2013, 6:41am

Scottish football manager Gordon Strachan was once asked by a reporter what areas his team could improve on. Strachan pointed to the pitch and replied: "Mainly that big green area out there …"

It's that area in the middle of Hong Kong Stadium that is also supposed to be where all the action takes place this weekend at the Sevens. But it's the antics of fans in fancy dress that can sometimes divert your attention from the exciting play.

For instance, during Hong Kong's match with Canada yesterday, in front of the South Stand, a cardinal had the Pope in a headlock while Bane (from the Batman movie) hit him repeatedly over the head with an empty beer jug.

And herein lies the problem. The purists will say that the only thing that matters is what goes on out on the pitch where rugby legends like Jonah Lomu, Christian Cullen and David Campese wowed the fans in past years - and indeed today's players are some of the fittest and talented around.

Compare this, though, to getting hammered on beer while dressed as Wonder Woman while Madness' One Step Beyond blares from the speakers. There's really no middle ground at times. Even the toughest prop forward with the Kowloon Pussies has divided loyalties at this shindig.

Either way, the Hong Kong Rugby Football Union couldn't be happier with the massive returns. It's one of the richest unions in Asia, if not the world.

All this would not have been possible without the Sevens, which over the past few years has seen the ageing 40,000-capacity Hong Kong Stadium being packed to the rafters. The demand for tickets is insatiable. The 4,000 tickets which were made available in a public ballot for this week's event were nearly six times oversubscribed. From small beginnings, the Sevens has grown into one of the biggest money-spinners in the game, and it opened the door for the sport's rapid progress.

Today the event actually reinforces the much-maligned slogan that Hong Kong is "Asia's World City". It's one of the few things here that lives up to this billing. Many of the spectators make an annual pilgrimage from overseas, and stay for a holiday.

This year is the biggest Sevens yet, with 28 teams playing instead of 24, which had been the set-up since the tournament was first held 38 years ago. This means 70 games, instead of the usual 61, have to be fitted into three days. Some fans will have their eyes glued to all the action, but you can be sure that just as many will be glued to the shenanigans in the stands, too.