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After the final whistle, the ‘legacy game’ begins

PUBLISHED : Monday, 05 May, 2014, 2:38pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 01 August, 2015, 8:50pm

The local rugby community has been and continues to be spoiled by a succession of international competitions being hosted here in Hong Kong.

The annual festival of Sevens week in late March was followed by the IRB Junior World Rugby Trophy (JWRT), which featured eight international under-20 teams playing some of the most passionate and engrossing games witnessed here for many a year.

We are now midway through the Asian Five Nations competition, which doubles as the region’s World Cup qualifier, and at the end of the month we host the Asian Women’s 15s Championship.

A considerable amount of time is spent both in writing bid documents to obtain the right to host these events, and then subsequently reviewing how successful the staging was – and a key component of making sure these write-ups carry an ever-increasing weight is that of “legacy”.

Profits from the Sevens have allowed the [HKRFU] to invest HK$100 million into improving sports facilities over the past 12 years

Quite how, when and why sports organisations became so obsessed with legacy is difficult to pinpoint, but I suspect it grew out of a need to justify spiralling hosting costs to reluctant governments, sceptical politicians, and fearful local residents.

It makes it much easier to explain an exorbitant price tag if you can demonstrate that the benefits of hosting an Olympics, a World Cup or a Formula one race, for example, will live on long after the competitors have packed up their gear and boarded their flights home.

Legacy can be packaged up in many guises of course, from the straightforward boost of tourist dollars to the economy, to associated upgrades in local infrastructure (most typically transport related) and finally, of course, the hoped-for surge of interest in participation in sport with all the well-argued accompanying benefits.

Legacies can often disappoint, however, a point most vividly captured by the Sunday newspaper supplement story that typically appears four years after the event and which highlights the crumbling “white elephant” stadiums, the half-finished road-and-rail projects, and the displaced communities who were shunted out to tidy up the arena environment and whose shattered lives remain in pieces.

Even participation levels can sometimes contribute to the “legacy-bashing”, with recent surveys suggesting that despite the work of the London Olympic Organising Committee there are now fewer youngsters engaged in sport in the UK than before the phenomenally successful 2012 Games.

Here in Hong Kong we also play the legacy game, and in fact have much to be proud of. The Abacus Kowloon and GFI HKFC 10s held in the lead up to the Cathay Pacific/HSBC Hong Kong Sevens raise large sums for local charities, as do the countless lunches and dinners during that period.

At the Sevens itself, the Hong Kong Rugby Football Union works with the Leisure and Cultural Services Department to give over 7,000 school students the opportunity to visit the Friday evening of the tournament free of charge, and included in that figure are several hundred youngsters from local charities and community groups with special needs and challenges.

The JWRT legacy programme also involved schools, this time the participating teams assisting in “Get Into Rugby” sessions to encourage local students to give the sport a try. In addition, the International Rugby Board ran training courses for volunteers from Hong Kong and around Asia to qualify as match commissioners, citing commissioners and judicial officers – all of which will in turn help raise the level and professionalism of the game in the region.

I can’t imagine the promoter of the recent Rolling Stones gig spent sleepless nights worrying if Mick and the gang would leave Macau a better place than they found it

Arguably the most significant contribution made by rugby to our community is in the area of facility development and last week KGV School proudly unveiled its new state-of-the-art sports field that was made possible by a HK$10 million donation from the HKRFU.

Indeed, the profits from the Sevens have allowed the union to invest HK$100 million into improving sports facilities over the past 12 years, which includes building pitches at King’s Park and Tin Shui Wai, as well as donating funds to HKU, Australian International School, St Stephen’s College, South Island School, YMCA Tung Chung Christian College, in addition to KGV.

This is something the HKRFU is extremely proud of and is a legacy programme that will have a positive impact on the lives of a substantial number of youngsters for many years to come, but it has only been possible thanks to the financial success of one event – the Sevens – and that is not a circumstance easily replicated by most other rugby tournaments held here, nor by the events of other sports for that matter.

Which brings us back to the question as to whether it’s reasonable to expect some kind of planned legacy every time a member of the sports community puts their hand up to host a competition?

Where there is an opportunity and the resources a legacy programme is certainly something to be encouraged and supported. The legacy concept is a good fit with the underlying values that underpin sport, but equally legacy “for the sake of it” can be a heavy burden for an organising committee to bear.

Perhaps we should sometimes just appreciate and enjoy a sports competition for what it is, in the same way we enjoy watching a movie or attending a music concert – to admire the skills of the participants and the thrill of the action.

Let’s be honest, I can’t imagine the promoter of the recent Rolling Stones gig spent sleepless nights worrying if Mick and the gang would leave Macau a better place than they found it.