Hong Kong Sevens hot takes: the lessons learned from on the pitch and in the stands this year
From Fiji’s four-in-a-row to Smash Mouth sucking the life out of the South Stand, we’ve seen it all at the 2018 tournament
It’s been a hell of a weekend at the HSBC/Cathay Pacific Hong Kong Sevens.
Our reporters have been on the ground at Hong Kong Stadium. Here are their takeaways from an action-packed 72 hours:
Nazvi Careem: Kenya coach Innocent Simiyu was asked what made the Hong Kong Sevens special. His eyes lit up, he opened his mouth but the words wouldn’t come out. He need not have put it into words. His eyes said everything, the disappointment of defeat erased by the knowledge he was somewhere hallowed. There should never have been any doubt. The Hong Kong Sevens has been special during its formative years when teams sent a mix of big names and rising stars, it was special when each team fielded their best players and it was special over the weekend even with some of the top sides fielding second-string players because of the Commonwealth Games. The crowd was loyal to the Sevens’ atmosphere and Fiji were loyal to their second home in So Kon Po. That’s essentially the two main ingredients for the best sevens tournament in the world. And not many cities can match that.
Jonathan White: The best thing about the Sevens is also the most damning of sport in the city. Nearly 40,000 people eagerly pour through the doors of Hong Kong Stadium for each day of the tournament but that’s a number that every other sport can only dream of. Admittedly, a large portion are visitors from overseas but still the turnout among residents dwarfs every other local sport. Barely 20,000 turned up to see Leo Messi and Argentina celebrate the HKFA centenary in 2014 and Kitchee managed 13,000 for their home AFC Champions League bow this year. Only the Premier League Asia Trophy has the draw of the Sevens and it’s going to be even more of a contrast when the Sevens moves to Kai Tak Sports Park and a 50,000 capacity stadium. That’s not to denigrate what is the biggest sporting weekend in the city, but it is a shame. What’s the answer? There are other problems surrounding attendances for other sports but maybe letting everyone have a pint in the stands would be a start. After all, no one’s here for the rugby.
Sam Agars: Ben Ryan called teams bringing second-string line-ups a “sign of weakness” and in the end the team with the courage to declare they wanted to win the Hong Kong Sevens and the Commonwealth Games have their just desserts. While South Africa, New Zealand, Australia and England fielded kids, Fiji came to Hong Kong to do a job and do a job they did. The Blitzboks & Co think they have orchestrated the perfect preparation for next weekend’s Games, but what’s better preparation than winning in Hong Kong? The Fijians will take some stopping on the Gold Coast and here’s hoping they steamroller everyone and are rewarded for giving the Hong Kong crowd what it deserved.
This may be the most people dancing to Smash Mouth in the last 20 years but they were booing the band just before. Crowd now just gone mental for a Bon Jovi singalong. Now it’s Sweet Caroline... pic.twitter.com/6l6a4vflAQ
— Jonathan White (@jmawhite) 7 April 2018
Nicolas Atkin: The Sevens in general felt a little flat this year, with smaller attendances because of Easter, but it also didn’t help that the entertainment wasn’t up to scratch either. Normally the Sevens kick-off concert gets the party started in raucous style with an outdoors party at the Sevens Village next to Hong Kong Stadium – but it was moved to Queen Elizabeth Stadium because of noise complaints. That spoiled the fun a little bit, even though UB40 put on an excellent gig. It all felt disconnected from the main event, and the ridiculous alcohol restrictions in the arena made it feel a world away from the spirit of the sevens. Normally the kick-off concert band will also play the half-time show at the stadium on Saturday, but UB40 were nowhere to be seen. Their repertoire of pop reggae hits would have been perfect for the five-song set list – the South Stand would have been jumping. Instead we got Smash Mouth (they’re still a thing?), a band for whom the term one-hit wonder would be generous. Their set was uninspiring, and the party actually livened up when they finished and he DJ started playing all the Sevens classics like Bon Jovi and Neil Diamond. Hopefully it was just a blip and next year the music and entertainment is back to its best.
Robby Nimmo: In Fiji, there is a seven-dollar bill. This small island nation knowsthat whether they win or lose, the Hong Kong Sevens is the currency that counts all over the world and is worth backing. “The most important fixtures for Fijians living all over the world is our national day and the Hong Kong Sevens,” said Lupa Matameli, a Fijian living in the United States who flew in with Fijian friends from around the world.Their diaspora reflects that whatever corner of the globe a Sevens fan comes from, when the team of their birth takes the pitch, the national streak emerges. Like Serevi all those years back, national pride is unstoppable. Sevens fans from all corners of the globe are united by the same. And yet most have the hankering to support the underdogs. You don’t need to be former Hong Kong captain Chris Gordon to understand the Chinese proverb: ‘The cunning hare has three burrows’. He’s pulled on jerseys at Hong Kong Stadium pitch for his native Australia, Taiwan and Hong Kong. ‘Gordo’ has been spotted all over the stadium this weekend, back for the Pacific Rim sevens reunion. Like Sevens fans and players, he knows the sevens is always on the money.