The World Rugby Sevens' premier tournament is back in Hong Kong this autumn, but under Covid restrictions. Here's what you need to know.
The way it was - fans at Hong Kong Rugby Sevens in 2019.
There was relief for rugby fans this week when it was announced that after a three year hiatus, Hong Kong Rugby Sevens will finally be back this year.
Before Covid, Hong Kong Sevens was considered the premier tournament on the World Rugby Sevens circuit, with fans flying in from around the globe for the three day event. However, the pandemic meant that it was prevented from running in 2020 and 2021.
The Hong Kong government has now granted approval to the Hong Kong Rugby Union (HKRU) to stage what was once the jewel of the city’s sporting calendar.
Normally held in the spring, the event kicked-off in 1976 and, until the pandemic, regularly attracted 120,000-plus spectators to its home at Hong Kong Stadium in Causeway Bay. The tournament began on a Friday and ran until Sunday, hosting teams from more than 20 countries as well as showpiece matches between local youth and children’s teams. The tournament embraced the entire local rugby community, with a two-day Hong Kong Women’s Rugby Sevens tournament held before the men’s event.
A carnival atmosphere would pervade, particularly in the notorious South Stand where fans would dress-up and party hard on the Saturday. Over the years, Hong Kong Sevens has borne witness to streakers, Mexican waves and tossing of beer jugs. In 2007, the South Stand was restricted to fans aged 18 years and over. The drinking usually spilled over into Hong Kong’s nightlife district of Lan Kwai Fong late into Saturday night.
Numerous charity long lunches and other events were held around the city in the lead-up to the tournament, with international teams often paying a visit to local schools to put children through their paces.
However, this year’s event looks likely to be a much more subdued affair. It will be held from November 4 to 6 and will be subject to Hong Kong’s Covid restrictions. It’s unlikely to attract many overseas visitors as, although the city is now open to non-residents, there remains a strict seven-day compulsory quarantine for arrivals. There has been nothing to indicate that this will be lifted in time for the event.
Players will be kept in a closed-loop system and will only be allowed to move between the airport, their hotel and the stadium.
Meanwhile, spectators have been warned that while they will be allowed to drink, they will not be able to eat in stadium stands. Masks must also be worn.
Instead, food consumption will be limited to specific ‘eating outlets’, the details of which are yet to be announced. “For eating, you need to take off the mask, and we want to reduce and minimise the mask-of activities to the spectator stands,” said Hong Kong’s sports commissioner Yeung Tak-keung.
However, drinking will be allowed in the stadium under the rules of previous tournaments - drinks can be consumed throughout but alcoholic drinks are banned in the upper tiers. Spectators will be expected to keep their masks on when not drinking, with rugby union representatives roaming the stadium to remind people to mask-up.
“After three-and-a-half years without a Sevens, I am confident this will be a special event,” said HKRU chairman Patrick Donovan. “With just over three months to go until kickoff, the HKRU will be liaising with all stakeholders starting from next week and announcing further event details, including ticketing information, in the near future.”
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