Hong Kong Sevens

Poisoned carrot means time for rethink on Sevens largesse

PUBLISHED : Monday, 29 March, 1999, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 29 March, 1999, 12:00am

The Hong Kong Rugby Football Union must be kicking itself for offering a purse of US$510,000 for the Hong Kong Sevens.

This sum - almost $4 million in local currency - was described by one long-serving member of the HKRFU as 'staggeringly obscene'.

Nowhere else in the world does a sevens tournament, or for that matter 15s, including the Rugby World Cup, hand out such largesse.

The idea behind dishing out this huge prize was to get the Home Unions, especially England, to send representative sides. And not just to accept the invite, but also to send a couple of their best players.

As everyone knows, England have ignored this carrot. English RFU officials have so far showed that they are beyond temptation when it comes to seven-a-side rugby. Even Eve would have found it difficult to entice them to take a bite of the apple.

So the intended goal has not been achieved. In the meantime the others, Fiji and company, are gleefully pocketing the dough. All the best to them.

The irony is that these teams would send their best players to the Hong Kong Sevens anyway, money or no money. They have done so in the past, and would continue to do so in the future.

Having realised their folly, it seems the HKRFU may be having second thoughts about putting up such a big purse in the future. The tournament is at a crossroads.

The Hong Kong Sevens has traditionally been the HKRFU's cash cow. The Asian economic crisis, combined with the decline in ticket and merchandising sales in the past two years, has left the number-crunchers at the HKRFU in deep depression.

The 1997 Rugby World Cup Sevens saw the HKRFU profit to the tune of around $18 million. Profits plummeted at last year's Hong Kong Sevens to below $9 million. Last year was also the first year the jackpot was on offer. When the numbers are taken into account, it can be seen that almost half the profit has been wiped away by the tournament purse.

The Sevens is local rugby's bread and butter. The development programme hinges on the money raised at this tournament. Tour programmes from the elite to the junior level, salaries for staff, etc., are largely covered by the Sevens profits.

Handouts (prize money) are okay when times are good. But under the present circumstances, it seems foolish to dole out money to benefit other unions.

No wonder people within the HKRFU are now having a reappraisal.

'Do we continue handing out money, or don't we?' is what the local union whizzes must be thinking today.

The problem with withdrawing the loot is that Hong Kong will be seen as uncharitable.

Once you start offering prize money, you are locked into it. Any reduction, let alone not offering it, could harm the integrity of the Hong Kong Sevens.

Our solution is to use the proposed World Sevens Grand Prix as an excuse for getting out of this awful mess.

Hong Kong's inclusion in this series will make it imperative for the top teams to play here (not that they need any arm-twisting now). So why offer a purse? That $4 million could be better used to improve the lot of the local clubs.