Rugby: There Is a New Vibe in Hong Kong

Jonathan LeowContributor IMarch 27, 2010

HONG KONG - MARCH 26:  Philip Mack (R) of Canada moves the ball up against Josateki Veikune of Tonga on day one of the IRB Hong Kong Sevens on March 26, 2010 in Hong Kong.  (Photo by Victor Fraile/Getty Images)
Victor Fraile/Getty Images

The party atmosphere is just as great, the beer is ever flowing and the crowds are packing it in at the 2010 edition of the Cathay Pacific/Credit Suisse Hong Kong Sevens.

The usual established countries have turned up in force, but what is most interesting to note at this tournament is the variety of countries participating.

Rugby 7s inclusion into the Olympics has seen a certain surge of interest in the game by keen nations, developed and developing, who are passionate at having another medal in their trophy cabinet.

This year’s IRB Sevens World Series has already seen how much a difference the game being recognized as a Olympic sport can make to nations in the circuit who have shown so much potential, but lacked the support to carry it through.

The United States is one clear example of a great sporting nation that until now has seen Sevens and rugby in general as very much as an international sport, with a grassroots reach.

The mind set seems to be changing, with the potential to win an Olympic medal injecting much needed financial and more importantly, player support into the game.

A first—ever finals appearance in Adelaide on the last stop of the circuit was a clear indication that the United states are serious in their Olympic medal defence in 2016.

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What’s more interesting to note, as the Cathay Pacific/Credit Suisse Hong Kong Sevens 2010 goes into full swing on and off the happy valley pitch, is the symbolic renascence with old—time rugby pundits that the Olympic Sport of Rugby Sevens has come home to where it all started.

The modern incarnation of the Cathay Pacific/Credit Suisse Hong Kong Sevens in the magnificent Hong Kong Stadium is a far cry from a humble club tournament that started almost 30 years ago in a small little territory and that potential for growth in the shortened game has grown leaps and bounds.

To this writer, the Hong Kong Sevens is the birthplace of modern Sevens rugby. Through its popularity first as an elite level club tournament in the amateur days of rugby, to the recognition of the International Rugby Board, to given birth to the Sevens World Series some 10 years ago, the Hong Kong tournament has always been at the centre of this development.

With its short game times, party atmosphere and carnival like environment, Sevens has become the sport for both purists and new comers alike and Hong Kong is the church for this new revival.

The Cathay Pacific/Credit Suisse Hong Kong Sevens kicked off on Friday, 26 March and will go on till Sunday 28  March and the action on and off the field has been fantastic to say the least.

The vibe is a little different this year, a little more formal, yet still as cheeky and laid back in parts. On the pitch, the teams look a little different as well.

Since its admission into the world rugby fold in the late 1990s, China has developed the game very much at the grassroots level, with major national talent coming from  the army and the national agriculture university.

Many commented that the game would stay very much a labour of love, with very little government support unless the sport contributed to the Olympic medal tally.

China, as a rugby nation, has developed at a steady pace at the larger fifteen aside game as well as Sevens. But in Asia, they still are in Division Two of the larger Asian Five Nations Tournament, behind the likes of Japan and Korea.

At this year’s Cathay Pacific/Credit Suisse Hong Kong Sevens, however, they look different.

Obvious is the large amount of sponsorship logos around their team kit and even more obvious is their play on the field.

On Friday, they led powerhouses Australia by 12 points in the first three minutes, before going down to them in their first game of the tournament.

This morning, they led Canada by seven points, before going down to them again. What stood out was their passion, their play and notably, the physical presence of the players.

Hong Kong has just defeated World Sevens Champions Wales 21—19 and the stadium has gone crazy. Certainly a new vibe is in town!

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