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Last week's Hong Kong 7s marked the 40th year of this outstanding event, the first, and largest of the now popular HSBC World Rugby 7's tournaments. From its earliest beginning four decades ago - a standalone event for many years - Hong Kong begat the HSBC nine-city sevens global circuit (expanding to ten cities in 2016), begat the 200+ sevens tournaments in the USA, and, providently, begat the reentry of rugby into next summer Olympics in a sevens version for men and women.
The innovative event set the benchmark and style for running an international gathering that promoted exciting rugby and fan fun. The teams that arrived in 1975 numbered sides from South Korea, Tonga, Japan, Sri Lanka, Malaysia, and Fiji, with unofficial nationals teams coming from Australia (The Wallaroos) and New Zealand (The Cantabrians.)
Each year after, Hong Kong increased the number of teams, and also the event's "destination" reputation for offering spirited rugby, fun for all, and outstanding host city hospitality.
Hong Kong's 40th
To gain a first-hand impression of the past tournament, we interviewed Jonathan First, President of United World Sports LLC (Las Vegas Sevens, Varsity Cup, College Rugby Championships, and Rugby Today).
Rugby Today: General impression of 2015?
Jonathan First: Hong Kong backs the tournament one hundred-percent. It's well sponsored by HSBC Bank and Cathay Pacific Airlines. There are no outdoor billboards advertising as in other cities but the television coverage is extensive. In addition, local companies buy hundreds of tickets, especially, those firms with ex-patriot employees familiar with rugby. It's always a sell-out, and this year, 3,000 public tickets were put aside and received 28,000 requests, eventually, chosen by lottery.
Rugby Today: The stadium?
Jonathan First: It seats 40,000 and is located in Happy Valley next to the popular and successful racetrack. We heard talk that the tournament may move to a newly built domed stadium in the future.
Rugby Today: Any special events to celebrate the 40th?
Jonathan First: The entertainment was terrific. A big surprise was the appearance of the Village People to the delight of the crowd. Everyone knew the old tunes and sang along. Inside the stadium they also had a colorful parade of all the sevens nations and all the youth teams as well.
Rugby Today: The party atmosphere?
Jonathan First: An area in Hong Kong is called Wan Chai that features the pubs, which were packed with ex-Pats from the UK, Australia, and New Zealand.
Rugby Today: Costumes?
Jonathan First: Set aside is the well-known South Stand for all the people who come in costumes. It has become so popular, that it opens at 8 a.m. and fans wait five to seven-hours on line to sit in this colorful area.
Rugby Today: What can the Las Vegas Sevens adopt from Hong Kong?
Jonathan First: Hong Kong excels at corporate hospitality. Multinational companies in the Pacific Rim plan annual meetings to coincide with the event. At Las Vegas, we have to build out corporate suites to facilitate a larger domestic commercial attendance of our sevens tournament.