Boots and all

Can Hong Kong cash in on China’s rugby millions at the richest ever sevens tournament?

With the best eight teams in the world headed for Shanghai, the HKRU needs to find a way to get in on the action

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 18 July, 2017, 1:33pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 18 July, 2017, 2:24pm

If I was the Hong Kong Rugby Union, I’d be on the phone to China quick smart calling in a favour.

After all Hong Kong has done for rugby in China – inviting players to play in its domestic leagues and offering expertise over the years, among other things – surely the least they can do is swing Paul John and his side a berth in their super-duper cash-laden sevens tournament scheduled for later this year.

It’s the perfect scenario for Hong Kong – the best eight World Series teams on their doorstep, and they would actually get to play them, unlike during the Cathay Pacific/HSBC Hong Kong Sevens.

The Champion of Champions – slated for October in Shanghai – is set to be the richest ever rugby sevens tournament and will see the Chinese Rugby Football Association (CRFA) – with the help of Alisports – invite the top eight teams from the 2016-17 World Series to duke it out for a never-before-seen purse.

It seems an outlandish concept, but as World Rugby chief Brett Gosper said, if there’s one way to get the best teams in the world to buy in, it’s money.

Fiji for one won’t be able to jump on the plane quick enough, with the financial struggles of the sevens giants well documented.

Legend has it the main reason they’ve made Hong Kong their own for decades is that the home of sevens offers the best prize money.

So they’ll be there and it’s hard to imagine the likes of South Africa, New Zealand and England turning down the chance to land a big windfall while fine-tuning their squads for the 2017-18 World Series, which kicks off in December.

All that aside, there will be plenty quick to scoff at the chance of Hong Kong lining up alongside the best eight sides, but here’s the kicker.

The CRFA and Alisports plan to include the China national side in the tournament, giving the HKRU an in to plead their case.

Heck, at a time when South African teams are joining the Pro 12, World Rugby vice-chairman Agustin Pichot is calling for Japan to be included in the southern hemisphere’s Rugby Championship and there are even suggestions the cut Australian Super Rugby side should join Japan’s Top League, Hong Kong stepping out in Shanghai in October seems perfectly sensible.

China to host richest ever rugby sevens tournament as US$100 million injection bears first fruit

Any case against Hong Kong taking part in the Champion of Champions because of there ability is quashed by China getting the nod, a team Hong Kong have dominated in recent Asia Rugby Sevens Series.

The CRFA might not be so fond of the idea – after all, Hong Kong are one of the teams they are looking to make ground on – but the HKRU should be able to come up with a couple of decent bargaining chips to support their cause.

With Alisports – the sports division of e-commerce giant Alibaba, owner of the South China Morning Post – last year throwing US$100 million at growing rugby in China, it has been suggested Hong Kong could play a role in developing the sport on the mainland.

When Alisports announced its investment in October last year, then union boss Vern Reid hinted Hong Kong could get involved by training referees, match officials and coaches.

World Rugby chief outlines how China plans to become a global force in the sport ‘in a hurry’ after US$100 million cash injection

Maybe if the HKRU ups their commitment to helping China achieve the quick growth they so crave, the CRFA may be willing to give a little the other way and give John and his troops the exposure to top-level rugby that has long been a talking point in Hong Kong rugby.

After all, it’s the competition, not the money, that Hong Kong desperately want.