A Good Try (by some)

When it was announced that rugby sevens would be made an official event at the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio De Janeiro there was naturally a lot of pride and excitement here in Hong Kong. Pride because the annual tournament in our city is by far the most important in the international calendar. Up until quite recently winning the Hong Kong sevens earned extra points for the successful team. Although the International Rugby authorities have now made all events on the circuit equal in value, in the hearts of true rugby aficionados everywhere the Hong Kong sevens is regarded as number one. Indeed, the decision to bring sevens into the games followed a visit to our tournament by the International Olympic Committee evaluation team. Who could possibly fail to be moved by the sight of so many fired-up teams from nations large and small and 40,000 multi-cultural fans screaming their heads off in ecstasy?

Excitement because surely Hong Kong’s special status would be recognized. And it was: our city would play host to one round of the Asian Qualifying event from which one men’s and one women’s team would emerge to represent the continent at the Games themselves. The event was held this weekend (7 and 8 November).

Next to acquit themselves well were the Hong Kong teams. Our men’s team made it to the final and fought gallantly – even being in the lead at the half time break – before finally going down to the top rugby nation in Asia, Japan. Our girls also put it all out there on the pitch. Two aspects of our team’s performance really caught my eye: first, the majority of the players are Chinese which is quite an achievement in a community which until fairly recently saw rugby as a purely barbarian game. And the heart-warming story of Chong Ka Yan, who first saw the game three years ago when as a student earning pocket money she worked at the Hong Kong sevens selling hamburgers, became hooked, took up the sport and now represents us at the highest level. A tribute both to her and the local rugby authorities.

And now to the aspects that were not quite as good: a totally disproportionate police presence both within and on roads leading to the stadium; sky high prices for food and drink inside ($20 for a cup of water, for heaven’s sake); and the whole crowd being corralled into one relatively small area of the stadium and denied access to the upper stands altogether (why?) except of course for the inevitable privileged few. Why discriminate against the general public when the whole point was to get as many as possible to turn up to support the teams on the pitch? The organisers could do better, me thinks.