Listen you sad, obsessed Hong Kong Stadium loyalists – let it go! The Sevens must move to Kai Tak Sports Park
And don’t worry about the atmosphere: 50,000 screaming fans in a modern, spectacular venue will make sure it will be better than ever
We all know what’s good about Hong Kong Stadium. Those tiny, nostalgic idiosyncrasies and characteristics that you’ve come to love and cherish over the years. The space that’s been yours and your group’s for possibly more than two decades, where friendships were forged, where romances were kindled and where hilarious stories of drunken missteps and maybe a dash of debauchery have diffused into your own personal niche of plastic and concrete; coding anecdotes into the very molecules of a blessed patch of stand as a record of your merry activities over the years.
A microcosm of thousands of similar existences playing out throughout the 40,000-seater So Kon Po edifice, all coalescing into a single, overpowering entity that forms the essence of Hong Kong Stadium’s soul. Oh, if only the seats could talk. And oh, if only we could throw up right now.
It’s a one-way relationship, my friends. You’re like the guy infatuated with a woman who rolls her eyes whenever you show up, only you can’t see it. All you see is her beauty, her status and her nobility. You are blinded to the fact that she gives not one iota of a hoot about you. It’s time someone effected a thundering slap across your servile face to wake you up to the realities of life, to see her for what she really is.
As it is with Hong Kong Stadium. Again, we all know what’s good about it but to understand why the Hong Kong Sevens needs a new venue, we need to reveal its faults, and how it relies on your subservience to fuel its arrogance.
So let’s start with the South Stand – that oasis of culture, colour and rugby scholarship where pilgrims overcome hardship (hangovers) just to claim their ground early on Saturday or Sunday mornings. A hallowed place where the honour of being a South Stander comes with risks, such as being drenched by beer, urine, vomit and other bodily excretions. But you smile through gritted teeth because it’s the South Stand, no? The past Sevens saw beer cups full of urine lined in a row, the result of punters either being too far away from decrepit toilets or fearful that they would lose their precious patch of South Stand real estate to those lining up to take their places.
Even players are not safe. Those warming up on the south side are at risk – one area in which the Hong Kong Sevens is actually way behind many of the arenas on the World Series circuit. As Hong Kong Rugby Union chairman Pieter Schats says, we are one of the few venues that don’t provide an outside pitch for warming up – something that is compulsory on any major governing body’s requirements for hosting bids.
Changing rooms, medical facilities, media mixed zones and even catering services for fans and players are sub-standard.
“This stadium is still iconic,” said Schats. “People walk in and think, aesthetically from the surface up, it’s great. But underneath it needs some real work. These players are professionals and they go to places like the Principality Stadium and Millennium Stadium [in Wales], Cape Town stadium and Twickenham and these venues have great facilities for the players. We [in Hong Kong] only patch things up.”
“What about the atmosphere!” we hear you all shriek in naive unison. Well, Hong Kong Football Club had atmosphere and fans were horrified when it was decided to move the tournament to the Hong Kong Stadium. And the 28,000-seater old Hong Kong Stadium had atmosphere and fans were horrified when it emerged that the venue would be upgraded.
Well, if the new stadium in Kai Tak is empty then, yes, there would be no atmosphere. But it’s going to be filled with 50,000 screaming people. And notorious Sevens fans at that. How do you not create an atmosphere? Surely fans will take it upon themselves to generate another version of the South Stand, or possibly something better – this time with loads of clean, working toilets that would prevent parts of the venue becoming an open-air latrine.
In addition, a lit-up stadium in the middle of the harbour would have no sound restrictions, allowing the post-Sevens party to last long into the night without residents calling the police after 11pm. And the Wan Chai warriors are still only a few MTR stations, or even a cab-ride, away from their chosen playground.
“Imagine people coming into the stadium and leaving at night by boat,” said Schats, highlighting the potential for a whole new Sevens culture to emerge and thrive. “As with previous venues for the Sevens, the first year you complain, the second year you think about it and the third year, you’re used to it and what was before is forgotten.”
Hong Kong Stadium has been a great venue for the Sevens but it’s time to move on. Organisers have tried to enhance the experience with music, side attractions and flushing toilets. But they can only do so much given the restrictions. Hong Kong Stadium doesn’t love you as much as you love it. It’s time for a new relationship.