Groundhog Day is still full of surprises

Organisers manage to keep the Hong Kong Sevens fresh even after nearly four decades of putting on the same show

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 29 March, 2014, 12:23am
UPDATED : Saturday, 29 March, 2014, 12:23am

It's important to never lose the ability to be surprised. Ever. Doesn't matter how many times you have been to the Sevens and the Hong Kong Stadium, you should always be looking for something different, something fresh.

Walking into the stadium last year was certainly a surprise. Smack dab in front of the main entrance at the North Stand was a new towering set of corporate condos. You couldn't miss them or the sign that said no loitering.

Pedestrian traffic became something of an issue as well as sightlines to the pitch.

In an enlightened move, the condos are gone this year and the whole of the stadium has benefited from the positive karma.

This year we estimate we could do another 20,000 visitors, so a new stadium would be welcome
Sean Moore, communications consultant for the Sevens

The organisers of this event will readily admit that keeping it fresh after 39 years is something of a challenge. The place will still sell out and the booze will flow regardless.

But for most of the people here this weekend, it is not their first Sevens. For many of us it is Groundhog Day and not even the Hong Kong Rugby Football Union could foresee the backlash last year to the corporate takeover of the stadium's main pedestrian thoroughfare.

"We listen. I think that's important to note that people involved in running this event do listen," said Sean Moore, communications consultant for the event.

"Every year we look at what we do and try to make it more appealing. We want people to let us know what you want to see in your Sevens and we try to take what they say on board."

Well, OK, now that you mention it could we get an edible hot dog? That's not too much to ask is it?

Because, other than the food, there's not many complaints from this corner, at least none that can be dealt with in a timely manner.

A new stadium and infrastructure for the event is much needed, but that's a dated rant. Nothing fresh about that.

"This year we estimate we could do another 20,000 visitors, so a new stadium would be welcome," says Moore.

"What we hear is positive steps are being taken towards it. We are also working with the government on the reality that we are going to be here for another six years and some things will be repaired. But then it becomes a question of how much money do you want to invest in a stadium that will be replaced eventually."

If you look hard enough, there are some upgrades from last year like the toilets on the upper level, which seem to have been remodelled.

Each urinal and sink is now numbered presumably to make it easier for social media devotees to hone in on their precise location. Never get in the way of the future even when relieving oneself.

Of course, you don't want to mess too much with a winning formula, but fresh is fresh.

"The areas like the Fan Zone and the live music we have in the stadium this weekend, having an act on Friday and Saturday, helps to keep the event fresh while helping to engage the local community and give people more opportunity to enjoy themselves here," said Moore.

Working on his 18th Sevens in a row, it would seem that keeping the event fresh would be a professional consideration as well for Moore.

"This year with the Fan Zone on the Central harbourfront it is a bit of a trial programme," he said.

"But, of course, we have an eye on next year to make it big. I can promise you we will have something special for the 40th anniversary."

Down on the pitch there are a few changes with four brackets of four teams in the Sevens World Series competition with another three brackets with four groups of minnows in the qualifier contest.

The top team from the qualifiers will go up and be eligible to play the entire World Series competition, while the bottom team from the top group will be relegated.

"From a rugby perspective, the format for us is not entirely new, but this year with one team going up and one team going down, that part of it is new and for a casual fan that's a real easy thing to understand and you can get behind a team because everything is riding on this week," said Moore.

"Teams like Hong Kong and Japan have many fans here who will create a lot of interest to see if either team can be promoted."

The best teams are still the best teams. Nothing has changed there, but as far as an up-and-coming impact squad, I would have to nominate Russia, at least after day one.

Thanks to their government's aggression in annexing the Crimean peninsula and the unrepentant tactics of their strongman president, Vladimir Putin, the Russians have become the early targets of boo birds.

Of course, Putin doesn't care and after watching Russia win a thriller against Chile and thrashing Barbados, the players don't seem too concerned either. But it's early days here, it's never too late for a surprise or two.