Marriages and mayhem – How the Hong Kong Rugby Sevens changed my life, part 1

Hong Kong residents and visitors tell us how the unique event has had an impact on their lives

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 30 March, 2017, 2:01pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 01 April, 2017, 10:53am

Just over a decade ago, a booted and (bespoke) suited banker arrived at a pre-tournament lunch on Sevens Friday. He was fresh from a conference in Australia. Dressed in a navy suit and blending in with the other guests was Peter Phillips, Queen Elizabeth’s grandson and Princess Anne’s son. Not long after enjoying the Sevens experience, he moved to Hong Kong with his Canadian wife, Autumn, for a period. Perhaps the Sevens touched his life that weekend, as he mixed with the same Hong Kong Sevens spirit of egalitarianism and fair play. A far cry from his days as Gordonstoun School’s rugby captain when it was reported he was asked in the pre-match rugby toss by a referee: “Grandmother or tails, sir?”. From royalty, to “rugby royalty” and regular fans, the Hong Kong Sevens has changed the lives of many ...

Rowan Varty

Hong Kong sevens team professional player

In many ways my life would not be the same. My parents brought my sister, Lindsay, and I to the Sevens every year, and it was watching the mini rugby that made me want to play rugby.

I have spent almost all of my adult life playing rugby for Hong Kong and we are now lucky enough to be a professional sport at the Hong Kong Sports Institute. I also qualified as a solicitor before we went full-time as a team. I still work part-time at Tanner De Witt. The firm is extremely supportive of both my legal and rugby career, and the Hong Kong team.

I injured myself at the Sevens in 2015 and couldn’t make it to the Tokyo Sevens a week later. As a result, I went to a friend’s wedding in Phuket and met my fiancee there. In that way, the Sevens has definitely changed my life.

Chris Kaufman

New York-based correspondent

The queue for tickets to the 1993 Hong Kong Sevens was, as it had been for years, an all-night affair in late January at Victoria Park.

My friends, “Nob” [Eddie Naylor] and John Jarman, woke me up shortly before dawn.

John’s ruthless rocket-fuel Bloody Mary had mellowed overnight and the sausages were still warm. Through yawns and grumbles, when we got to Victoria Park, there before me stood the person who was to become the love of my life. I rifled through the South China Morning Post to the core chat-up section: Calvin and Hobbes.

We drank and started to get to know each other.

A year and a bit later, we were married, aptly on Sevens weekend. The new stadium was so new that there were no seats (BYO cushion). One added benefit: the standing bet I had with most of the 110 and 111 sections of the Hong Kong Stadium that the US would dominate this sport within a decade ... or two.

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Mugabo Djuma Adams (aka Jimy Mugabo)

Sevens coach

I am a Rwandan born in Burundi. We came back to live in Rwanda just two years after the 1994 genocide. It was not very easy for many people like my mother as a single parent with five children.

I lived on the streets of Kigali, carrying luggage, selling plastic bags and/or washing cars to find food.

In 2010, my dream came true when we travelled to Hong Kong and witnessed the Sevens. I owe a big thank you to Dave Hughes, who organised this and is still very involved in the Rwanda Rugby Committee, playing a huge role in the game’s development.

While in Hong Kong, I was the captain of my team in the Kowloon RugbyFest. I was invited to the CNN studio for a World Report interview, which was mind-blowing for me – I never imagined something like that could happen to me.

I met many great rugby people like Waisale Serevi, who was for me a hero. I made great friends who even supported me with my education. Without the Hong Kong Sevens, I could not have become the person I am today.

With some of my teammates, we started a team in 2014. I feel very proud to be the head coach. I have a job I love and I can provide for myself and my family.

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Melvin Byres

Rugby fan and sports consultant

I started playing for Stanley Fort under-8s in 1992. I’m still friends with many of the guys I played with – and against – and who went on to play for Hong Kong and professionally overseas, including Adam Raby, Kenzo Pannell, Tom McColl and Mark Wright.

I remember getting a photo with Waisale Serevi pitchside in the old stadium in 1992, when it was common for spectators and players to mingle. Fast forward 20-plus years and I was with Serevi again, working with him as one of the HKRU tournament ambassadors.

The Sevens changed my life not only in the sporting and social sense, but in the career sense. My first role working on the Sevens was as the team liaison officer for Scotland. I spent one year managing the substitutes bench, then as a touch judge. Then I spent a few years working for a sports marketing firm, before joining the Hong Kong Rugby union, where I worked for four or five years.

This year, my main role will be managing the new fan walk – a series of pop-up entertainment stages, big screens and F&B kiosks at Lee Gardens, en route from Causeway Bay MTR to the stadium.

I would not have been in a position to set up my own events consultancy and the Business Of Sport Network had I not been involved in the Sevens.

Barring school exams, I’ve not missed one all my life. This is still my most important weekend of the year, and it’s who I am 24/7, 365 days a year.