Hong Kong in strong position to call IRB bluff

PUBLISHED : Monday, 12 April, 1999, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 12 April, 1999, 12:00am

Let's hope senior Hong Kong Rugby Football Union (HKRFU) officials Peter Duncan and Allan Payne are good poker players.

For it will be time to call the International Rugby Board's (IRB) bluff at this weekend's meeting in Buenos Aires, Argentina, where the format for the new World Sevens Grand Prix circuit will be discussed.

Duncan, HKRFU chairman, and Payne, its executive director, will represent the SAR at this crucial meeting, which can change the face of the Hong Kong Sevens.

The present situation is this: Hong Kong wants to host the final leg of the proposed eight- or 10-leg series. The IRB says that is not possible because the calendar cannot end in Hong Kong as the weather can only permit events being held in summer in Europe.

The Hong Kong Sevens is regarded worldwide as the premier sevens tournament in the world. What is more, it is the most enjoyable rugby spectacle for both spectators and players alike.

Everyone, from former Wallaby great David Campese to Eric Rush and Waisale Serevi, has endorsed the Hong Kong Sevens as the world's premier sevens tournament.

Seen in this light, there is no question that the Hong Kong Sevens is crucial to the plans of the IRB's World Sevens Grand Prix. Without the Hong Kong Sevens, there will be no credibility in the new series. The IRB must realise this. But probably pandering to interest groups from within the Home Unions, it has stated a position that does not suit Hong Kong.

The Grand Final in the new circuit should be held in Hong Kong. There is no other venue in the world which can draw crowds of 30,000 on two consecutive days. There is no other venue in the world where an atmosphere like Hong Kong can be found.

Even the tournament director of the Air France Sevens in Paris, William Jefferson, admits that Hong Kong is special.

'It is the best sevens tournament in the world. And we will always support the Hong Kong Sevens,' said Jefferson, who was a spectator at last month's Hong Kong Sevens.

If not for any other reason, the IRB should grant Hong Kong the Grand Final simply because it is due to the Hong Kong Sevens that this abbreviated version of the game has caught on.

Today, sevens tournaments generate big bucks for organisers around the world.

Joining the circuit will cost Hong Kong its broadcasting rights and a substantial sum of money will be sacrificed.

And even though the IRB has guaranteed that Hong Kong would not lose money by joining the international sevens circuit, let's hope Duncan and Payne have good poker faces.

They must realise that the IRB cannot do without the Hong Kong Sevens.