If you thought the Winter Olympics in Sochi were the biggest sporting event of the year, think again. Every March, Hong Kong hosts the Rugby Sevens, a three-day extravaganza held at the Hong Kong Stadium in So Kon Po.
Officially known as the Cathay Pacific/HSBC Hong Kong Sevens, the tournament is part of a world series organized by the International Rugby Board, with a total of US$150,000 in prize money up for grabs. The annual event is scheduled for March 28-30, 2014.
The action's fast and furious at the Sevens — Photo courtesy of Hong Kong Sevens
Teams – both male and female - from all over the world fly in to compete. This year, players from Argentina, Australia, Canada and England will be flexing their muscles on the pitch. Frequent winner Fiji will be facing up to stiff competition from teams from France, Kenya, New Zealand, Portugal, Samoa, Scotland, South Africa, Spain, Sri Lanka, the United States and Wales.
Teams are split into groups to play each other in a series of short, sharp encounters lasting just 15 minutes.
Other competing countries include Russia, Italy, Japan, the Cook Islands, American Samoa, Trinidad and Tobago, Barbados, Zimbabwe, Tunisia, Chile and Uruguay, as well as local hero Hong Kong.
So with players from Europe, the Americas, Asia, Africa and Oceania, the Hong Kong Sevens has pretty much got the world covered.
The action is fast and furious, with a lot of kicks, running and point scoring, all followed with consummate enthusiasm by the crowd. Even those who are not rugby devotees admit that the carnival atmosphere makes for a superb spectacle.
But what really raises the bar at the Sevens is the crowd. Some 40,000 spectators can fit into the stadium, and it’s rare to find a seat unfilled. From the corporate boxes to the maelstrom that is the South Stand, fans dress up in a riotous selection of costumes – Vikings, penguins, pirates or whatever takes their fancy – to get into the spirit of the tournament.
The fun continues long after the final whistle at the end of each day’s play, with thousands of thirsty sports lovers heading to the nightlife districts of Wan Chai, SoHo and Lan Kwai Fong.
And it’s not solely an adult affair: a kids’ rugby contest featuring youngsters from Hong Kong kicks off the Sevens on the first day, and there are plenty of families in the spectators' stands throughout the weekend.
Naturally, tickets to the Sevens sell out fast; however, it is usually possible to pick up spares in Hong Kong shortly before the event starts.