Hong Kong will never see a Fifa World Cup on the pitch but the view of Russia 2018 from the city is awesome

Quadrennial tournament has been a big hit in the city despite no team having a majority fanbase

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 08 July, 2018, 8:02am
UPDATED : Sunday, 08 July, 2018, 10:03am

Never say never, but I’d be happy to wager that Hong Kong are unlikely to ever make the Fifa World Cup.

That being the case, you could forgive people for not being interested in the festival of football we’re being served up from Russia but that’s far from the case.

Despite the late nights, early mornings and disruption to rhythms at work, home and to your body, people are making the effort. It’s something of a contrast to the pre-tournament worries expressed by many bar owners that the crowds would not be out in force.

Facebook might have been quiet with World Cup screenings but the streets of Central and Wan Chai have not been, and it has been a similar story in bars and restaurants all over. You can see from being in the MTR following final whistles, a sudden sea of shirts and fading emotions.

Uber prices surging hundreds of dollars after games is more evidence of the crowds, although after one colleague shared a photo of his taxi driver watching the game via a phone while driving, other forces could be at play.

There’s plenty of evidence that this World Cup is happening and stimulating the local economy, to boot.

The football fillip might even compare to the Sevens, the “jewel in the crown of Hong Kong sport”. Sure, one lasts a month and the other is three days but a combination of the number of World Cup shirts sported on the streets, food and drink at venues showing games and the bets at the Hong Kong Jockey Club adds up.

And that’s all before the money going to Now TV. The broadcaster – who stepped in at the 11th hour to secure rights for the 64 games after LeSports pulled out ­– spent a reported HK$600 million, which even with advertising revenue, new customers and additional packages for existing viewers is a heavy investment, one surely too big to claw back.

There’s an argument to be made that it’s still worth the expense, or that it might be one worth being made from public coffers to get all the games back on free-to-air TV, even if the sports minister has stated that the glory days of France 98 are never to return.

This World Cup has been incredible so far and not just the football, which has delivered Dostoevesky levels of narrative and drama.

This is a world city, properly multi-cultural, and with an absence of local interest on the pitch, it’s not a one-team town and it never will be.

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The truth is that even with the World Cup moving to 48 teams and an expansion in the number of nations from the Asian Football Confederation, the city’s football fans won’t be cheering Hong Kong in the World Cup any time soon. But they are out supporting the World Cup in force and that is a great thing.

Fans are free to follow their own national teams, whoever they choose or even no one at all ­­– football is the winner, and all that.

If I wanted to support Peru while watching in England, questions would be asked, justifications would be expected, and accusations of football hipsterdom would be levelled, probably fairly. That’s not the case in Hong Kong where the World Cup is a unifying force, despite there being no single team for everyone to gather behind.

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That also means that the inevitable disappointment that greets 31 teams is not going to come for all of us. Sure, there will be those who are unhappy but they will be among friends old and new.

I’ve watched games with groups supporting Denmark, Poland, Belgium, Germany, France, England and Sweden. In bars, homes, a hotel ballroom and a refugee centre. The World Cup has been an opportunity for all of these communities to open up. It’s bringing people together even if that is just to agree that Neymar is a diving little herbert.

Italians watching Denmark, Mexicans cheering Belgium, Hongkongers supporting everyone. Many of these fans are not even football fans but the World Cup is too big to miss. Several of the Hongkongers supporting Iceland admitted that they don’t watch games normally but came together to support their adopted European side.

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Things like the office sweepstakes have given people a reason to talk ­– although if you got Poland, Japan, Iran and Sweden that might not have been the cleanest of language. Who knew there was a bustling sticker swapping community of all ages meeting up to try to fill their official Panini albums? There are thousands of these stories.

When you’ve heard a refugee sing “It’s Coming Home” it makes you wonder why the World Cup has to end. You’ve got to a week left to make yours unforgettable.