HK Sevens fans face scrum for prime seats

TICKET-BUYING Sevens fans will be deprived of several thousand prime lower-tier seats at the new stadium if managers Wembley International refuse to release their 50 middle-tier suites for the Hongkong tournament.

Although nothing has been finalised, it is believed Wembley will not allow the Hongkong Rugby Football Union to take over the permanent executive suites for their regular Sevens patrons.

Instead, the Union's 100-odd sponsors will be forced to occupy temporary boxes on the lower concourse.

That means almost half the capacity of the 10,000-seat lower area will be taken up by corporate boxes.

For safety reasons, temporary boxes cannot be built in any other part of the stadium.

This means the vast majority of paying customers will be forced to watch the two-day spectacular from either the upper tier or behind the goals.

At this year's tournament, held in the the partially completed stadium, fans were not allowed to take alcohol into the upper tier. A decision has still to be made on alcohol sales for next year's tournament.

Each of the 50 corporate boxes on the middle tier, or club level, can seat about 40 people.

However, these are likely to be occupied by companies who have long-term contracts with Wembley rather than the Sevens patrons who require them for a one-off event.

The corporate boxes problem is the main issue between the Union and Wembley, who one month ago were threatening to take over the organisation of the tournament.

But the two sides are much closer to finalising a workable solution with Wembley due to meet the stadium's Board of Governors next week.

At the meeting, Wembley officials will put forward a letter outlining details of their recent talks with the Union.

Union secretary Peter Else said he hopes certain issues can be ironed out quickly.

''There are still a number of things that need to be clarified,'' said Else. ''I'm sure Wembley will come back to us after the meeting.'' Else said the organising committee would have no problems making up lost time.

''Organisation starts the day after the tournament ends,'' he said. ''It is an ongoing process, we haven't put it on hold.'' In past Sevens tournaments, the Union box has been flanked by the event's two main sponsors, Cathay Pacific and HongkongBank.

The Union want to maintain this format and also provide their other patrons with adequate boxes.

Wembley are also likely to charge the Union 20 per cent of the hiring out fees for the temporary boxes.

Else said that Cathay and the Bank were committed to the event.

Mike Broadbent, the Bank's representative on the organising committee, is confident a solution is in the offing.

''It is clear that a lot of progress has been made, although a few items need to be ironed out,'' Broadbent said.

''But I am optimistic that we can come to a satisfactory solution.'' Cathay's Alastair Blount said: ''There are still a few things to be worked out between the Union and Wembley, but we are committed to the Sevens.

''We have supported the event since it started and our objective is to bring the Hongkong Sevens to the world.'' The Wembley Board of Governors includes Sir Brian Wolfson and seven Urban Council representatives.

The Board is chaired by Urban Council chairman Ronald Leung.

At one point, it seemed next year's Sevens tournament was in serious doubt.

Initially Wembley wanted to handle all aspects of the event, including catering, merchandising and ticket sales, for which they would receive a significant percentage in revenue.

The Union were trying to prevent Wembley from taking over the tournament and wanted complete control of the stadium for a week to 10 days prior to the tournament.

Concessions were made on both sides, and it is hoped that any discrepancies can be ironed out before Wembley's proposal to the Union is put before the Board of Governors on Friday.

The 19th edition of the Hongkong Sevens is scheduled for March 26 and 27, 1994.