We need bigger stadium - and fast
HKRFU president is concerned the HK Sevens might not have a large enough facility in near future as government drags its feet on issue
The government's feet-dragging over building the new Kai Tak sports hub is the biggest worry for rugby as "capacity constraints" at Hong Kong Stadium begin to have a harmful effect on the growth of the Sevens, says Brian Stevenson, president of the Hong Kong Rugby Football Union.
"The state of the union is healthy but my biggest concern and the biggest challenge facing us is that we have been playing the Sevens at a venue which has been sold out for the past few years. Meanwhile, other places like Singapore are building larger venues," said Stevenson.
The HKRFU, which is celebrating its 60th anniversary this season, is in rude health thanks to the iconic Hong Kong Sevens. Profits from the annual tournament, which takes place this week, has swelled union coffers to more than HK$237 million in net assets.
But Stevenson, who is also chairman of the Hong Kong Jockey Club, warned that unless the city had a new stadium soon, others would overtake Hong Kong. "When you look at places like Singapore [which is on the verge of completing a new sports hub] you realise how the rest of the world is moving forward aggressively," Stevenson said. "But we haven't even got approval plans yet for a new stadium."
The government recently called for expressions of interests from the community as to how the Kai Tak sports complex should proceed, and as to how it should be financed. A total of 41 submissions were made and the Home Affairs Bureau will make a final report next month. But it is still unclear how the HK$19 billion project will be financed and managed.
Last year the entire project was up in the air after certain sections of the government and the powerful property developers wanted to move the sports hub elsewhere.
This was nipped in the bud following widespread protests from the sports community and the public.
There are now doubts the 50,000-seater stadium - the HKRFU is pushing for a 55,000 capacity - plus other ancillary facilities will be ready by 2018, the original deadline for the project.
Stevenson hinted the delay had cast doubts over plans to ask Japan to share some of the 2019 Rugby World Cup games with Hong Kong. But the bigger worry is the Hong Kong Sevens, which is part of the International Rugby Board's World Series, is being overshadowed by other tournaments around the world.
Already the London Sevens, held at the 82,000-seater Twickenham, is the climax to the season and will this year decide the three teams to be promoted to the world series next season.
"If you compare the Hong Kong Stadium and Twickenham, you can see we have a huge challenge on our hands," Stevenson said.