In a move sure to generate a furious reaction from local rugby fans, Hong Kong Sevens organisers have said it is "inevitable" that even fewer tickets will go on sale to the public next year
SCMP, March 24
I shall have to choose my words carefully here. My son, who is currently studying in Australia, is a long-time local rugby club member and a devoted supporter of the Hong Kong Rugby Football Union.
But when this year's Hong Kong Sevens saw only 4,000 public sales tickets made available locally for a 40,000 seat stadium, and when HKRFU chairman Trevor Gregory then says "it's just a fact of life" that the figure will be even lower next year, two words come immediately to mind:
Here are the facts. In 1994 we presented the union with a brand new stadium for the Sevens. It was so purpose-designed for the Sevens alone that it did not even include a running track to make it usable for local athletic events.
The boosters of this project sold it to the government on the basis that it could still be used for other purposes, including concerts, but didn't bother themselves with even the little research needed to show that noise by-laws would apply as the stadium would be in a residential district.
So now once a year this stadium is packed out and, while occasionally there is a good turnout for another sporting event, for the rest of the year the large bulk of the seats in those stands would do us better service as solar collectors.
OK, a mistake in projections of market demand. It happens. But what makes Mr Gregory's remarks galling is that the union is now lobbying the government hard for the construction of a bigger and much costlier stadium at Kai Tak, once again to be paid for entirely by general public funds.
We're good enough for you when you want money, are we, Mr Gregory, but when it comes to spreading the benefits, we are not. Is that the way it works?
Now, I am not the first person to have said this to HKRFU directors and I know their standard response. They say that, in fact, most of the tickets do go to local residents as the bulk of the allocation is made to local rugby clubs, which the union sees as its first responsibility.
It is certainly true that the HKRFU has done a fine job of promoting local rugby at a grass-roots level so that what was once an expatriate sport now has a much wider appeal across the entire community.
It has been able to do so in part because, while accepting an overall loss on the stadium, we have been happy to let the HKRFU make big profits from it every year on the Sevens, with the result that its balance sheet now shows net assets of about HK$250 million.
But we shall not be picky about it. They've done a good job and certainly showed up the soccer world.
However, if the objective is to spread enthusiasm for rugby across the wider community, how is this objective served by allocating the bulk of the Sevens tickets to people who are already enthusiasts and don't need to be sold on rugby?
If the objective is to reward the local clubs for their enthusiasm, are we to take it that these clubs are not quite such enthusiasts for rugby as they are for Sevens tickets? Surely, standing in line with other members of the public is not so repulsive as to turn them off the sport.
And if the objective is to help local clubs raise money, wouldn't it be better done by selling Sevens tickets at their full public value and then distributing the money to the clubs afterwards?
In fact, the presence every year of so many touts selling tickets (including ones allocated to clubs) at more than twice their face value indicates strongly that the HKRFU under-prices the Sevens. Jack those ticket prices up, Mr Gregory, and you'll have even more money for the local clubs.
But you're pushing it, Sir, to tell the public it will get even fewer tickets next year while asking that same public for more money for a new stadium.