Hong Kong showcase remains sevens jewel in the crown even as Rio promises golden prize
As rugby sevens returns to the Olympic fold after more than 90 years in the wilderness, the Hong Kong showpiece remains in rude health
For 41 editions now the Cathay Pacific/HSBC Hong Kong Sevens have been the centre of the game’s universe, the showcase that has gathered the faithful – on the field and off – for a weekend more annual pilgrimage now that simply a sports event.
They’ve returned again this April, both players and those hordes, to a different time slot on the calendar due the game’s pending adoption by the Olympic family in August and due to the ever-expanding global reach of the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series.
There was a fear, maybe a whisper of it, that this might lessen the impact of an event here in Hong Kong that, ironically, inspired the IOC to turn back to rugby after the game’s absence from their line-up since 1924.
How the game – and the world – has turned since then. At those Games in Paris, it was a rag-tag bunch of Americans who lifted the gold, much to the shock of the locals.
The Olympic leaders of the time said enough was enough and it took until a few of them happened to find themselves in the Hong Kong Stadium come one Sevens Sunday for the penny to drop. They came a few years back now, they saw, and they quite fancied a slice of the sevens pie for themselves.
Seasoned sevens stars and upstarts on the rise in the game have been joined by a collection of the game’s 15-a-side community – some of them household names – as the battle for a place in the final 12 players allowed to go to Rio have commenced in earnest.
You’d have been reading about them all week – and can learn more inside the South China Morning Post’s special Sevens supplement today – but you’ll get to see them in action, playing as though their lives depended on it. Their Olympics dreams most certainly will.
Defending champions Fiji come back to their home away from a home that sits battered and bruised after the destruction wrought by Cyclone Winston in February. As the islands struggle to recover, they’ll know any good news from afar – especially when it concerns a sport that borders on a religion – will help set spirits soaring once again.
It’s tight at the top, though, with South Africa and New Zealand snapping inches away from the Fijians’ heels.
The Australians – the team Hong Kong has for so long now loved to hate – seem to be finally getting their act together after a title drought that extends back to 1988, a time when leg-warmers were in fashion and a certain David Hasselhoff was about to unleash the phenomenon known as Baywatch on the world.
No chance of those leg-warmers being seen around the stadium, but The Hoff will be strutting his stuff as the event’s official ambassador and a man who has, in his own words, come to play.
Hong Kong will again be lining up in the World Rugby Sevens Series Qualifier, Hong Kong’s own Survivor-style reality piece that leaves just one lucky winner with a ticket to the promised land of the world series next season. Cheer them on at every moment. It’s your duty.
Anyway, that’s enough from us. Listen instead to All Blacks Sevens coach Gordon Tietjens who first came to town as a player back – way back – in 1983 and had been appearing each year as a coach since 1994.
Asked once what he thought of the Hong Kong Sevens, he briefly looked like he was being asked the blindingly obvious.
“There’s nothing like it in the world,” he said.