The annual orgy of beer swilling, fancy dresses and laddish antics which has become synonymous with the Hong Kong Rugby Sevens doesn’t immediately spring to mind when charity is mentioned. So it was interesting to hear about the “Mission Possible" box and the great work they were doing over in the corner somewhere down towards the dreaded South Stand. And why not – after all, probably less than five per cent of the population has any interest in rugby or the Sevens. The rest of the community just knows that Causeway Bay will be blocked solid and taxis scarcer than hens’ teeth for a week in late March every year. Wan Chai and Lan Kwai Fong will be heaving with an invasion of gweilos and you can’t get on a flight and every hotel jacks up rates. Yes, it’s about time this privileged bunch stepped up and raised some money for the rest of Hong Kong. And that’s what they did.
HKRFU donate box
So how do you turn a Sevens box with 76 seats into a lot of money? The chap behind all this, Peter Bennett, is understandably reticent to blow his own trumpet, but the retired JP Morgan banker and corporate financier should be an inspiration to all wealthy people who have enough money already, and have access to people who can help them raise some more for good causes.
We’re all pretty jaded with typical overblown Hong Kong charity functions staged in posh hotels where the costs of the event and the marketing eat up a major chunk of what the charity finally receives.
The chat on the terraces was that Peter Bennett had deliberately not done it this way, because he wanted all the money donated and raised to go direct to the four local charities, which are, in no particular order, the Foodlink Foundation, which distributes unwanted restaurant and hotel food to those who need it. Then there was the Lighthouse Foundation, which helps injured construction workers, the Community Chest Rainbow Programme and the Po Leung Kuk’s Special Children Development Fund.
It can’t have been easy, but it seems he used his considerable powers of persuasion to get the Hong Kong Rugby Union to stump up the box for free for Mission Possible – good for them. All he had to do then was fund and organise the rest himself. It seems they too felt they should be contributing to the wider community and not just rugby-related charities.
By forfeiting the price of a box, the rugby boys were chipping in at least HK$1.2 million – what they could have sold it to a corporate for. Having secured the box for free, Bennett set about getting sponsorship for everything from the food to the wine and entertainment. The snowball effect worked and once Holiday Inn, holders of the contract to feed the Sevens, were won over, Links Concepts followed with the wine. The more sponsors he got, the more people were happy to take part and next thing insurers AIG found out about it and handed over a cheque for HK$500,000, saying it was just the kind of sponsorship gig they wanted to be involved with.
Bennett then energetically approached people, telling them there was a Sevens box for local charities, and for a generous donation, they could come to the box and enjoy the rugby. The box had 76 seats with space for more.
Bennett is modest, considering the venture raised the best part of HK$3m. The key thing for him was value for the charities and donors. “The cost of the event should be kept under tight control with everything sponsored, so that everything raised goes to the charity,” he says. Born and raised in Hong Kong, it’s time to give back, he believes. “I think I’ve been very fortunate in my life and I think there comes a time when you have educated your children and met all your basic needs and can look more broadly at life and can give back to your community.”
Let’s hope the snowball effect continues and more wealthy people step back and ask should they be doing something different, rather than just making more money. Having secured the box for three years, Bennett's already planning for next year.