Next year’s postponed Cathay Pacific/HSBC Hong Kong Sevens will only go ahead if at least 50 per cent of Hong Kong Stadium can be filled with fans, Rugby Union chief executive Robbie McRobbie said. Following the Sevens being pushed from April to November 2021 – officially confirmed by the Union and organising body World Rugby on Thursday – staff have more time to tighten their already comprehensive Covid-19 protocol blueprints. “It’s disappointing but the overwhelming sentiment is one of relief. With our efforts to have the event in April as the clock ticked, it was – as before – the uncertainty that was the big killer for us,” McRobbie said. “When we found out that World Rugby were open to the idea of rescheduling to later in the year, frankly speaking we jumped at it. It was a no-brainer. We are always disappointed when we’re not able to deliver as originally scheduled, but extremely happy that we have an event on in the 2021 calendar.” That the city’s marquee sporting event – along with remaining 2019-20 HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series legs – was postponed then cancelled last year means the Union has long been in contact with medical experts and governing bodies to ensure an eventual safe and successful return. Meanwhile, Hong Kong continues in its struggle to contain cluster outbreaks and untraceable infections amid its fourth wave of the pandemic. However, many are encouraged by the promising news of vaccine roll-outs some time in 2021. “We have liaised closely with medical experts in Hong Kong and overseas, looked at how events have been put on around the world during Covid-19, and the restrictions that the government were asking for,” McRobbie said. “The move to November makes it more viable. There’s no doubt about that. As things stand with the vaccine, the later on we are in the year, the greater chance we can put on an event with fewer restrictions. “However, we are definitely not being complacent and will continue to plan over the coming months for the need to have Covid-19 restrictions in place. We’re sticking to hope for the best, plan for the worst.” It is no secret that the Sevens is vital for the Union’s well-being, given that it generates around 95 per cent of its annual revenue . Previous estimates suggest the Sevens brings nearly HK$400 million to the Hong Kong economy every year , with its last event raking in HK$116 million and HK$55 million in corporate box income and tickets, respectively. Simply put, the Sevens only works if the fans are there to watch it. “We’ve always said that an event with no crowd makes no sense for us. That’s the nature of our commercial model. We don’t make any money from broadcast – that goes into the central pool with World Rugby – so we are very reliant on bums on seats and sponsors, patrons and corporates in the stadium,” McRobbie said. “We have done the figures and know what number crowd we need to get to the stadium. As long as we’ve got 50 per cent or more, the event makes commercial sense for us. That’s what we’ll be working towards, the benchmark of 50 per cent. Below it and we would need to reconsider.” McRobbie added that even with social distancing regulations, “you can still get 50 per cent in” So Kon Po’s 40,000-capacity Hong Kong Stadium. “We haven’t just sat here and found out last week that we couldn’t do the event. We have been for the last couple of months proactively engaging to explore every possibility to put the event on in April. It’s important for people to understand that this has been a very dynamic process,” he said. McRobbie praised the Union’s stringent “Return to Rugby” protocol and said they could hold the event “tomorrow”. “We’re pretty confident if the event was tomorrow. The two elements – incoming teams and stadium crowds – to be honest, we’re more confident about the incoming teams situation,” he said. “The testing protocol in country of origin and arrival, booking an entire hotel, bubbling the hotel, planning transport … we have a pretty comprehensive plan for that. “Even if the situation in November was still challenging in terms of countries and Covid-19 rates, we are still confident we could get teams in safely without jeopardising their health and, more importantly, the health of the wider Hong Kong population. “It’s very unlikely that we will be in the same situation as we are now, but if we were, I would be confident about it.” Even more encouraging is that all 27 participating teams (not including Hong Kong) were willing to fly in for an April Sevens. The tournament was originally slated as a crucial Sevens Series opener, one of the few rugby sevens competitions ahead of the also-postponed Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games. It will now be the Series finale. “The teams are desperate to get back playing. We’re seeing a number of unions furloughing their sevens players because there haven’t been tournaments. If they’re not playing, they’re not getting paid, so they have a real incentive to do the testing seriously and put themselves in a place where they can get back to playing tournaments,” McRobbie said. ” In an official release on Thursday, World Rugby said it would host it the Sevens Repechage, the final qualification event for the Tokyo Games, in Monaco next June. It would also hand out US$4 million (HK$31 million) in support funds “towards unions’ sevens programmes and high-performance preparation events”. Hong Kong’s men’s and women’s still have a shot at qualifying through the repechage. The Olympic rugby sevens tournament takes place from July 26-21, 2021.