Rugby Union says Hong Kong Stadium needs 10,000 more seats to stay competitive
Expansion by 10,000 seats at So Kon Po needed, rugby union says, as rival cities build big
The Hong Kong Stadium must add at least 10,000 seats to its present 40,000 capacity if the city is to remain an attractive destination for major rugby and soccer events, a leading sports figure has warned.
Brian Stevenson, the president of the Hong Kong Rugby Football Union, has called on the government for a "longer-term" solution to remedy the stadium's shortcomings, including improving the state of the pitch and increasing capacity to at least 50,000.
"We cannot afford to look after our national stadium on a care and maintenance budget as is the case now," Stevenson said. "This will be our premier stadium until 2019 or 2020, and we have to find a way to make it bigger and better so that we can remain competitive on the international scene."
A major worry for the union is that with capacity restricted to 40,000, it stands to lose out on tens of millions of dollars over the next seven years on ticket revenue from the Sevens.
With the government still undecided on the way forward for the proposed Kai Tak sports centre and how it would be financed, Stevenson said rugby and soccer were resigned to the fact they would have to deal with the Hong Kong Stadium for at least the next seven years but it was time for a major refurbishment of the venue last redeveloped in 1994.
"We cannot only look at issues like putting in new turf. Going forward, the restricted capacity until 2020 could become a major issue for the Hong Kong Sevens. We must look at ways of increasing our capacity if our premier sporting tournament is to safeguard its leading status," said Stevenson, who is also the chairman of the Hong Kong Jockey Club.
"Other cities in the region have stadia with capacities of 50,000 and we will be left behind. They will become more attractive and this could result in us losing events.
"Singapore next April will have a 55,000-seater stadium. Nanjing , which hosts the Youth Olympic Games next year, already has a 60,000-seater stadium. We won't be able to match any of these cities until Kai Tak, or rather if Kai Tak, is built."
Following the turf fiasco during this summer's Barclays Asia Trophy and the visit by Manchester United, the government set up an "expert working group" to look at medium-term solutions on improving the pitch. Stevenson says the group's parameters should be extended to include the issue of increasing capacity.
Deputy Secretary for Home Affairs Jonathan McKinley said: "I am not aware of any proposals to increase the current seating capacity of the Hong Kong Stadium. Whether or not this would be technically feasible or cost effective would need to be subjected to further study."
Union chairman Trevor Gregory, a long-standing member of the construction industry, said it was possible to increase capacity at the stadium without causing major disruption to sporting events. "It has been done in the past when the old government stadium was renovated, but we still continued to hold the Hong Kong Sevens every year. Anything is possible if planned in advance," he said.
Gregory also warned that Singapore's new stadium would be a threat. "At present our stadium and its pitch can't satisfy the demand of international organisers," he said.
While rugby's demands for more capacity stems from being able to sell out the stadium for the Sevens, the Hong Kong Football Association was more reticent. "From the HKFA's perspective our recent discussions have been limited to the pitch. Increasing the capacity … would not be a priority for us," said its chief executive, Mark Sutcliffe.