Hundreds of irate rugby fans were turned away empty-handed at the public sale for Hong Kong Sevens tickets yesterday at Hong Kong Stadium.
A limit of 1,500 people were eligible to buy four weekend tickets apiece on a first-come, first-served basis. All in all, there were 6,000 weekend tickets up for grabs, but it proved to be nowhere near enough for the demand on the day.
Fans were outside Hong Kong Stadium from as early as 4am and when the gates opened at 8am a steady stream of people filed their way in until all tickets had been sold by 9.35am.
'It is just the same old story. There's a limit on the tickets on sale with the majority of them going to corporate hospitality,' Phil Owens, a publisher, said.
'It's no wonder touts and the black market are flourishing here now. They can queue up early in the morning for the tickets like today and sell them for a profit when the tournament starts.'
Although tickets were advertised as going on sale to the public at noon, as it was on a first-come, first-served basis, a coupon system was in place for those who arrived early. Those arriving first were given these coupons. When the allocation of tickets were sold out, waiting-list coupons were then given to the next in line.
Those on the waiting list then had to bide their time to see if all weekend tickets had eventually been sold or if some had been left over for individual days.
'I arrived here at around 9.45am and could only get a coupon for the waiting list. I've been here three hours now and still I don't know if I will get a ticket,' Tahir Khan, a private driver, said.
Even though a waiting-list coupon did not guarantee a sevens ticket it did not deter some people from trying to get one.
'My waiting-list coupon guarantees me nothing but I was just offered HK$1,000 for it!' Khan said.
But Hong Kong Rugby Football Union executive director Allan Payne defended the process.
'If it were Wimbledon tennis or a Rolling Stones concert people would be lining up round the block for tickets from the early hours and the Hong Kong Sevens is no exception,' he said.
'To me it's like going back a decade ago when fans used to stay up all night to get tickets for the sevens such was the demand.
'And it's not as if we are not looking after local fans. Sixty per cent of weekend tickets go to our clubs and today's public sale, while another 20 per cent go to our patrons. That's 80 per cent of the ticket sales, so we are doing all we can for the local rugby follower.
'The demand is huge but the nature of the sevens is that tickets are always available for one reason or another on the weekend itself.'
One person who wasn't complaining, though, was engineer Greg Stewart, who arrived at 9.25am and got there just in time.
'I'm happy to have a got a ticket but I don't know what these people are complaining about. Everyone knows by now you must get here early to the public sale or you are wasting your time,' he said.
'What do you expect when a limited number of tickets go on sale for an event of this magnitude? Years ago you'd have to camp out overnight to get a ticket. If you can't come early enough to get a ticket knowing the demand there is here, you only have yourself to blame.'