Success brings its own headaches

Ref's blunder and lack of Sevens tickets have one thing in common: It's all too easy to side with those who are losing out

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 31 March, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 21 February, 2014, 7:06pm

Sometimes success can weigh you down. Just look at Wales last Sunday at the Hong Kong Sevens. They were leading 12-0 in the Cup final when Fijian Ilai Tinai tip-tackled Lee Williams midway through the first half. Law 10.4 in rugby's rule book reads: "Lifting a player from the ground and dropping or driving that player into the ground whilst that player's feet are still off the ground such that the player's head and/or upper body come into contact with the ground is dangerous play."

When a player is speared into the ground, it is a red-card offence. For all other types of dangerous lifting tackles, a yellow card or penalty may be considered sufficient. Tinai was lucky to only receive a yellow card and, in his absence, Wales scored a third try to extend their lead to 19-0 at the break. What might have been the outcome if he had been red-carded and Fiji had to play with six men for the rest of the match? Would they have been able to stage that remarkable comeback sparked by supersub Osea Kolinisau, who scored a hat-trick and led his side to a 26-19 victory?

We will never know. But what we do know is the referee apologised to the Wales camp after the match, acknowledging he had made a mistake by not puling out his red card. And hearsay has it that he said: "I didn't want to give him a red card, as it was so early in the match and it would have meant six playing against seven."

A year earlier, Irish referee George Clancy red-carded Hong Kong's Keith Robertson for a similar incident 30 seconds into the match against Japan, although Robertson's tackle did not look as bad as Tinai's. That sending-off cost Hong Kong a chance of becoming a world series team. Wales, too, have every right to feel aggrieved.

In the end, Fiji were worthy champions but there remains the question, 'What if?' Which raises the point that success can weigh one down. If Wales hadn't been leading at that point, I would bet my bottom dollar the referee would have reached for the red card.

This brings me to my second example. My colleague on the business desk, Jake van der Kamp, last week raised the issue of the Hong Kong Rugby Football Union's ticketing policy. He took exception to union chairman Trevor Gregory saying there would be even fewer tickets available for the public in 2014 than the 4,000 this year.

Van der Kamp said Gregory had the "gall" to ask the government to construct a bigger and much costlier stadium at Kai Tak which was "to be paid for by public funds", while not "spreading the benefits" by making more tickets available to the public. He then goes on to point out that because of the Sevens, the union has net assets of "about HK$250 million".

It is not my intent to defend Gregory, but let's look at the charges. Firstly, it is no fault of local rugby that the So Kon Po stadium cannot be used for other events like pop concerts. Point the finger at the government for not doing its homework that noise by-laws would prevent impresarios from putting on major shows, or for residents of that area for being such wet blankets. And if rugby has benefited to the tune of HK$250 million, why hasn't the Hong Kong Football Association, the other major user of the ground, done likewise? You can't blame the HKRFU for being progressive, innovative and successful.

As to "spreading the benefits", shouldn't the game's stakeholders - the local clubs - be catered to before those who only come along once a year to get inebriated? Perhaps if a bigger stadium was available, then it would be the union's duty to see that more tickets were made available to the public but the truth is that demand exceeds supply largely due to the growth of the game - a product of the profits from the Sevens helping build rugby facilities all over town.

On the matter of public funds being used to build the new Kai Tak sports complex, as far as we know the government is looking at private involvement, too. So taxpayers are not wholly liable. But the biggest point which escapes Van der Kamp's attention is the Sevens rakes in money for the economy. A Hong Kong Tourism Board survey after the 2011 tournament revealed there was a direct economic benefit of HK$282 million.

There will always be people angry they cannot buy a Sevens ticket. That is a fact of life. And it will be the case even when we have a bigger stadium. But you can't pin that blame on local rugby. Yes, success can weigh you down sometimes.