ExclusiveHong Kong Sevens likely to go ahead with ‘closed loop’ like Beijing Winter Olympics, as rugby CEO talks up ‘catalyst’ for city
- City’s rugby union in advanced talks with government to overcome Covid-related challenges and ensure landmark occasion returns for first time since 2019
- Hong Kong residents working at the stadium or with the teams will need to quarantine for 7 days after it finishes
This year’s Cathay Pacific/HSBC Hong Kong Sevens is likely to operate under a closed-loop policy similar to the one used for the Winter Olympics in Beijing.
The Hong Kong Rugby Union is in advanced talks with the Home Affairs Bureau and the Centre for Health Protection about the event, which is scheduled for the first weekend in November.
Officials are exploring ways to ensure the landmark occasion can take place for the first time since 2019, with a variety of safeguards expected as the city continues its strict approach to Covid-19.
“We have worked closely with our friends in the Home Affairs Bureau to come up with a proposal that we believe will allow us to successfully host a Cathay Pacific/HSBC Hong Kong Sevens on November 4 to 6,” Robbie McRobbie, the union’s CEO, said.
“Some challenges remain, not least the significant additional costs to implement the required Covid measures, but we know how important it is – not just for HKRU, nor just our fantastic rugby community, but for our whole city – to get this on. This can be a real catalyst for Hong Kong.”
Previous attempts to stage the iconic rugby tournament have fallen foul of the need to combat the coronavirus pandemic, with the Sevens having been delayed five times in the intervening years.
Among the matters under consideration is for the 16 men’s teams involved to be kept isolated from each other, except when playing at the stadium. There are no plans to include women’s teams at this year’s event.
In addition to players, coaches and other staff, the hotel and hospitality workers, and those at the stadium within the confines of the pitch area and where teams change, would also be deemed to be inside the closed loop, meaning that they would have to stay in designated hotels before, during and in some cases after the event ends.
While teams would be free to leave the city once the Sevens finished, Hong Kong residents involved in those capacities would be required to spend another seven days in hotel quarantine.
Because hotel workers could be regarded as part of this loop, the union faces the prospect of block-booking hotels for two weeks at a cost of about HK$50 million, given that in this scenario some hotels would need to remain closed after teams left.
There are plans, too, for inside the stadium on match days, with officials considering allowing 85 per cent capacity, which also includes leaving the notorious South Stand open.
And while a source said that “consumption of beverages will be permitted”, they added that “discussions around food arrangements are continuing”.
There have been no suggestions that spectators who are already in Hong Kong would be subject to any quarantine, but the health measures in place in the city, such as the use of the Leave Home Safe app, are likely to apply in some way.
All of these plans are contingent on the coronavirus situation in Hong Kong remaining unchanged, although officials hope that restrictions could be relaxed by then.
The government has previously expressed its support for holding the tournament this year, with Financial Secretary Paul Chan Mo-po revealing in March that he wanted to bring more than 100 finance leaders to the city during the Sevens as a way to revive Hong Kong’s damaged reputation as an international business hub.
Speaking at a Redefining Hong Kong seminar organised by the Post, Chan said at the time that reconnecting with the international community after years of travel bans and tight entry restrictions was “important”.
“The idea is to bring over 100 finance leaders to Hong Kong,” he said. “We want to bring them over for them to see the situation for themselves, to bring about business and investment opportunities.”
Having the Sevens would also help boost the union’s depleted finances after almost three years of losses and staffing cutbacks, which has seen the union shed nearly 50 per cent of its workforce and end its elite player programme.