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The Hong Kong Sevens will return in November, although spectator numbers are expected to be limited. Photo: Handout

Exclusive | Hong Kong Sevens to return for first time since 2019, November tournament backed by government at ‘highest levels’

  • The landmark event will be back from November 4 to 6, but is expected to be held with some restrictions
  • Players to be shuttled between hotels and ground with closed-loop system in effect

The Hong Kong Sevens will return to the city in November for the first time in almost three years, after rugby bosses were given approval to host the tournament from “the highest echelons of the government”.

On Saturday, Robbie McRobbie, the Hong Kong Rugby Union CEO, said officials had “really swung behind” the idea of bringing the landmark event back after the coronavirus pandemic made staging it impractical in 2020 and again last year.

McRobbie said he believed this could be a “watershed moment” for Hong Kong, and the decision sent an important message to the international community that the city was open for business.

“Hopefully, together with the international business leaders forum and the fintech conference and all the other good stuff that is in the works for November this will send an important message,” he said.

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Given that some Covid-19 restrictions are still likely to be in place, the Sevens will operate with a closed loop similar to that used during the Beijing Winter Olympics earlier this year, meaning players and those involved in running the event are likely to be limited to the confines of their hotel and Hong Kong Stadium.

But fans will be allowed at the three-day tournament, which is expected to take place between November 4 and 6, with capacity at the ground limited to 85 per cent.

McRobbie said overseas supporters would “absolutely” be welcome, provided they adhered to whatever quarantine requirements there were at the time.

At present, incoming travellers are required to quarantine for seven days in a hotel at their own expense, although officials from several sporting organisations have told the Post they expect that to be reduced to just four days, with some saying an announcement could come as soon as Tuesday.

The Post has previously reported that health officials were “actively considering” cutting the week-long hotel quarantine period for arrivals to three or four days, with authorities hoping at the same time to launch a mainland China-style two-colour health code to better control the movement of infected patients and incoming travellers.

Rugby fans cheer during the Hong Kong Sevens on April 7, 2019. Photo: AP

The union said it would “continue to consult with the government” and planned on delivering the event “in compliance with the prevailing Covid measures in place at the time”.

During talks with government officials, the union was told that people deemed to be inside the closed loop would need to be in designated hotels before, during and in some cases after the event ended.

Because hotel workers could be regarded as part of this loop, the union could face the prospect of block-booking hotels at a cost of about HK$50 million, given that in this scenario some places would need to remain closed after teams left.

“We’ll now be sitting down with the Culture, Sports and Tourism Bureau and Centre for Health Protection and thrashing out those details, exactly how this all works,” McRobbie said.

But the CEO added that the government’s backing had filled his organisation with confidence, and the decision had been “worth the wait” with it coming a day before his self-imposed deadline to call the Sevens off for another year.

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With just three months to pull the tournament together, the union boss emailed staff to tell them that making it happen would be “massively hard work” but there was not a group of people he’d rather be doing that with.

“We’ve got an enviable track record of knocking it out of the park when it comes to putting on world-class events and I’ve no doubt we’ll do it,” he said.

After 2½ years of “treading treacle”, the return of the Sevens had put a spring back in the step of those who worked for the union, McRobbie said, adding that the event was “the thing that makes us whole, makes us complete, it’s at the very heart of us”.

“We are much more than just the Sevens, but the Sevens is very much at the heart of our reputation, of our brand, of our spirit,” he added.

Patrick Donovan, the HKRU chairman, said he was confident November’s occasion would be a “very special event”, but acknowledged that a lot of work lay ahead.

“I would like to thank the government, our sponsors, and World Rugby for their support, and I am delighted to be able to once again tell the world – see you at the Sevens.”