Hong Kong Sevens postponed until November 2022 because of city’s approach to tackling Covid-19, says rugby boss
- HKRU chief Robbie McRobbie says decision to delay tournament for fifth time was taken in best interests of ‘the teams and fans’
- Union warns that loss of revenue means they will have to look to cut costs across the organisation and community
Uncertainty over when the borders will reopen led to the Cathay Pacific/HSBC Hong Kong Sevens being postponed for a fifth time since the coronavirus pandemic emerged in 2020, the head of the city’s rugby union said on Tuesday.
Given the potential disruption should that not happen in time, the decision to switch the event from April to November next year was made in “the best interests of the tournament, the teams and fans”, Robbie McRobbie, the HKRU CEO, said.
There will be consequences, however, with the union now likely to have to make some more difficult financial decisions.
Previous postponements have already forced it to exhaust its financial reserves after an accumulated pandemic-related loss to date of HK$200 million, and reduce headcount by more than 40 per cent, including closing its professional players programme.
And in a message to local clubs, McRobbie warned the cancellation meant a “third year of no Sevens revenue, and we now have no option but to look at further cost cutting that will have implications across the organisation and the community”.
Ultimately the uncertainty over travel and quarantine meant the event could not take place. And while other countries and cities have begun to gradually reopen after Covid-19 forced a global lockdown, Hong Kong has continued to impose some of the strictest mandatory isolation rules in the world.
“The HKRU has been consistent in our message that we can deliver the Sevens without jeopardising the success of community health efforts which we support, but this requires a confidence that all participating teams can be allowed to travel and the ability to host the event to our own high standard, which we cannot guarantee,” McRobbie said.
Originally the sixth stop on this season’s HSBC World Rugby Sevens World Series, the city becomes the first stop for the following year, and will host a second tournament six months later in its traditional Spring slot.
Given the constant changes, McRobbie said he understood that the public maybe sceptical about any event going ahead, but remained confident that come November 3-6, 2022, the city would finally be ready for it to take place.
“As you can imagine, I’m being reminded of my previous comments when I said that I was confident we would go ahead in April,” he said. “I am confident that we can run this event, the main stumbling block at the moment is travel and quarantine, it’s a significant challenge at the moment, but it is going to improve.
“We don’t have a time frame at the moment, but international travel is going to open up, and the quarantine restrictions are going to ease, so as soon as that happens we’re ready to go.”
In its statement announcing the postponement, the HKRU warned that the longer elite sporting events were unable to be staged in the city, the greater the risk they could disappear from the calendar altogether.
Coronavirus outbreak forces Hong Kong Rugby Sevens to be postponed
But McRobbie said there was little danger of Hong Kong losing its place on the world series calendar, and praised the support the union had from sponsors Cathay Pacific and HSBC, and World Rugby.
“We’re really lucky with the relationship that we have with Cathay and HSBC, and I’m confident that World Rugby has got our backs and they will work with us to make sure that as soon as we can put that event back on, they will support us to do that.”
Still, Hong Kong’s loss could prove to be Singapore’s gain. The city state is scheduled to be the seventh stop in the world series, on April 9 and 10, and a double-header would fit in with World Rugby’s approach, with this season starting with two legs taking place in Dubai, beginning on November 26.