The first Hong Kong Rugby Sevens competition since the Covid-19 epidemic begins on Friday (November 4, 2022).
Chris Brooke, chairman of the Hong Kong Rugby Union, indicated that interest to attend the event is still high despite the city’s tight pandemic laws.
“I think people are looking forward to a fun weekend. Those restrictions are there but I don’t think it takes away from the key ingredients of the Sevens which is great rugby, entertainment and a fun weekend,” Brooke said.
The 40,000-seat Hong Kong Stadium will host the competition, although the government has limited seating to 85% capacity, allowing only up to 34,000 spectators per day. According to Brooke, approximately 26,500 tickets have been sold, with most attendees probably hailing from Hong Kong.
The three-day sporting event could have easily drawn 120,000 spectators before the outbreak. According to Reuters, the tournament brought in over $400 million Hong Kong dollars ($50 million) in 2019, with half of the attendance coming from outside countries.
Instead of the usual 24 teams, only 16 teams will be competing at the Hong Kong Rugby Sevens this year. There will also be no women’s tournament this time around.
The Fiji team has won the tournament five times in a row and will play their first match against Japan on Friday.
Many of Hong Kong’s pandemic regulations are still in effect despite the fact that the region’s neighbors have mostly abandoned their Covid-19 restrictions.
According to the Hong Kong Sevens website, spectators will be placed in groups of 12 and will be required to wear face masks at all times while they are not consuming food or beverages.
The site stated that attendees must show their Leave Home Safe Vaccine Pass and a snapshot of a quick antigen test with their name and date in order to comply with government regulations.
Like athletes were kept safe at the Winter Olympics in Beijing earlier this year, players must abide by Covid rules and remain inside a quarantine bubble.
“They’re very positive about being here … They’re very happy to go through that process to make sure they can get on the pitch,” said Brooke.
Navigating the rules has been difficult for the Hong Kong Rugby Union, which relies on the Rugby Sevens for most of its revenue.
Brooke said the organization had to significantly cut spending over the last two years and slashed headcount by 50%.
“We’ve always been aware of the reliance on the Sevens and we’ve always been trying to reduce that pre-Covid as well … We recognize that we need to look at alternative revenue streams,” Brooke said.
“It is quite challenging, but I think the focus going forward will be to ensure that we’ve got a good balance between the Sevens income and other revenue sources,” he added.
Still, Brooke is optimistic that the rugby union is moving in the right direction and is hoping for a good mix of local and international spectators in 2023.
“It’d be great if we can get these major events going over the next three to four months because I think it really helps the local community and obviously helps Hong Kong’s status as an international hub.”