When Rugby Football Union administrators in Twickenham received a letter from the colonial outpost of Hong Kong in 1975, asking for permission to host a seven-a-side tournament featuring a number of countries, they must have spluttered and choked on their gin and tonics. At the time, the world governing body, known as the International Rugby Football Board (the football has since been dropped), frowned upon multi-nation tournaments even though England and the rest of the Home Unions had been getting together annually since 1884 (the Four Nations), with the French joining them in 1910. But then it was one set of rules for the RFU and company, and a different one for the rest of the world. The idea of a Rugby World Cup was still some two decades away. But being Hong Kong, local officials refused to take no for an answer. And so the idea which was born during a meeting between Ian Gow (a tobacco company executive) and Tokkie Smith (the Hong Kong Rugby Football Union chairman) gradually took shape, resulting in the birth of the Hong Kong Sevens on March 28, 1976. Hong Kong, and indeed the IRB, must be thankful that the determined stalwarts within the HKRFU stayed the course. It would have been so easy to have meekly accepted the initial snub. But for their stubbornness, we would not have the Hong Kong Sevens. Present-day world administrators of the game describe the Hong Kong Sevens as the jewel in the crown. This accolade is deserved because thanks to Hong Kong, the IRB has a series which takes the game to all parts of the world, an ideal vehicle to drive the growth of rugby around the globe. The Hong Kong Sevens gave birth to the IRB World Series which has just completed its fifth year. The World Series, which has had anything from eight to 10 legs annually, has seen the game being played in places like Dubai and Beijing, hardly rugby strongholds. The Hong Kong Sevens has also spawned the Rugby World Cup Sevens, held every four years, to be staged for the second time by Hong Kong next year. The popularity of the Hong Kong Sevens made the IRB realise it had a money-spinner, one that could be played in years between the 15s World Cup. The Hong Kong Sevens, once just a sports tournament, is now the social event of the year. It is the only sporting event in Hong Kong that draws in tourists from other countries. Rugby fans from all over the world plan their holidays around the dates of the Sevens. Big businesses and corporations also schedule their annual meetings during the time. The Hong Kong government was slow to realise the power of the Sevens. But since the Sars outbreak last year, things have changed. This year's tournament was well supported by the Hong Kong Tourist Board, which is now aware that the event fills hotel rooms. Of course all this would not be possible without a worthwhile product on the pitch. In terms of sheer sporting value, the quality of the Hong Kong Sevens is becoming better every year, especially on the final day, when the knockout stages are contested. The tournament is boosted by its reputation for being a spawning ground for talent. Remember a big guy called Jonah Lomu, or what about Christian Cullen? Before them were players such as Zinzan Brooke and David Campese. Even current England captain Lawrence Dallaglio made an appearance in 1994. Of more recent vintage are All Black Joe Rokocoko and Springbok Brent Russell. Eric Rush and Waisale Serevi, probably the two greatest Sevens players, will thank the Hong Kong event for making them famous. They had a world-class tournament to showcase their extraordinary talents, year after year. After ignoring the tournament throughout the 1980s and 1990s, England now take Sevens seriously, thanks to coach Clive Woodward, who has played in Hong Kong. England have set up a specialist squad which, under the guidance of former rugby league star Joe Lydon and captained by Simon Amor, has won the past three Cup titles - completing a famous hat-trick in front of a sell-out crowd in March this year. Fiji and New Zealand are the only other countries to have completed a hat-trick of titles. Fiji, with Serevi at his peak, won from 1990 to 1992. The Kiwis ruled from 1994 to 1996 when Lomu was just starting to run over opponents. In fact, England, with three titles, have a long way to go to come anywhere near these two. Fiji have won 10 times in Hong Kong, including the World Cup Sevens held in 1997. The Kiwis have won on nine occasions. A crowded international fixtures list, which includes the Six Nations and the Super 12 competitions, prevents the top teams from sending their big-name players. But way back in the 1970s, when Sevens rugby was regarded as an oddity, the Hong Kong event offered lesser-known players a big stage to make their name. True to its roots, the Hong Kong Sevens is still providing that service today.