Hong Kong Sevens

East Asian Games offer sevens fans chance to prove their loyalty

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 05 April, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 05 April, 2009, 12:00am

So how many of you will turn up at Hong Kong Stadium in December to watch the sevens programme at the East Asian Games?

How many of you are true supporters of the game in this town, and how many of you are in the category of those once-a-year fans who only come along to have a ball with rugby being just a distraction?

These are questions the Hong Kong Rugby Football Union will ponder as it looks ahead to staging the inaugural sevens competition at the fifth East Asian Games (EAG).

The HKRFU will wish to replicate the atmosphere from last weekend when another successful Hong Kong Sevens drew to a tense conclusion with the flamboyant Fijians holding on to prevent South Africa from winning a first Cup title.

It will be a difficult task. Only eight men's teams and six women's teams (that is if Inner Mongolia front up) will take part in the EAG. None of the bigger nations will be around. So the HKRFU will worry about getting 40,000 people into the stands. It will require a Herculean effort. But undaunted, the planning is already underfoot to stage a super EAG.

The HKRFU will need your help for that. Here is the chance to show that you are not a fly-by-night supporter of the game. Turn up and cheer Hong Kong as they bid to win a gold medal. The players need you.

Hong Kong captain Mark Wright said last weekend after the team had scored two remarkable victories over Portugal and Tonga that the players were buoyed by the support from the fans.

'The crowd were fantastic, they lifted us an extra notch,' he said.

Crowd support truly does create an 'eighth' man. The HKRFU will try its best to build a similar atmosphere.

For starters, it is understood they will reduce ticket prices to HK$88 for an adult. This is for both days of the competition. A bargain considering that a three-day ticket last weekend cost HK$1,080.

The HKRFU will also allow children from its local community programmes to enter free of charge. They did this during the Hong Kong Sevens too - on the Friday when around 6,000 kids from mini rugby to various schools in the rugby programme were bussed in for free. The union will hope to expand that number for the East Asian Games.

Rugby was never part of the original medals programme at the Games. It was only a demonstration sport (along with dance sports). But the HKRFU convinced EAG officials that sevens was a sound investment. And so belatedly, the EAG made a change, but with one condition - the HKRFU had to bear all the costs.

So the cost for all the teams, from accommodation to food and transport will be borne by the HKRFU.

'But we are delighted to do so. Having rugby in the East Asian Games, and hopefully winning a medal, is part of our strategic plan,' said Trevor Gregory, HKRFU chairman.

Rugby shouldn't be too unhappy. All eight overseas countries still have to fork out US$75 per athlete per day towards their upkeep. That is the norm at any games, even the bigger Asian Games or the Olympics. Unless the host nation is rich, like Qatar, which used its wealth to fully subsidise costs at the last Asian Games in Doha, there is no such thing as a free Games. Despite the costs, the HKRFU could still come out smiling. The government will not charge a cent for the use of Hong Kong Stadium, and any profit from the gate receipts is for the coffers of the local rugby.

Last weekend, the HKRFU had to pay a percentage of the gate receipts as well as part of the receipts from sale of merchandise to the government.

But during the EAG, the stadium will be given free of charge. After paying for all the costs, the union might still come out smiling.

'We really hope the Hong Kong community will support us by turning up for the East Asian Games,' said Gregory. 'We will make every effort to fill the stadium and try and keep ticket costs at a minimum.'

Whether the HKRFU makes a profit from the EAG is not important. What matters most for rugby officials is not only to win a medal, but to also convince the government - by using the EAG as a tool - that the stadium requires a huge facelift.

Last Saturday, Gregory and the HKRFU hierarchy took James Tien, chairman of the Hong Tourist Board, and Allan Zeman, aka Mr Lan Kwai Fong and who has a finger in many pies, on a tour around the stadium, showing them all the inadequacies of the ageing facility.

'We showed them what is lacking. They saw the inadequate changing facilities as well as how much better the pitch can be,' Gregory said.

While the Hong Kong Sevens is regarded as the jewel in the crown by the International Rugby Board, the HKRFU knows that it could change some day if steps are not taken to stay ahead of the competition - mainly from Dubai and Singapore.

'Dubai has a state-of-the-art stadium while Singapore is building one. The new sports hub which has been promised for Hong Kong won't be ready until 2021, which is a long way off. But in the meantime we can't sit back and be complacent about the Hong Kong Sevens.

'The players are already complaining about the facilities below ground [the changing rooms in the bowels of the stadium]. We will have to fight to keep our place at the top soon,' Gregory added.

The Hong Kong Sevens provided a much-needed boost for the flagging economy. The least the government can do is to upgrade the facility which keeps the party going.

And who knows, in December, Hong Kong could have another party to remember.