As the Power Ranger chatted up the Swiss maid while a bus conductor ran past and pretended to stamp their tickets, you knew that the Hong Kong Sevens was in full swing in the South Stand yesterday. No one batted an eyelid when Chewbacca got into a row with Super Mario as Little Bo Peep looked on helplessly.
There are some events that become legendary for the impact they have on human history or scientific research or collective genius.
The Hong Kong Rugby Sevens is not necessarily one of these events.
However, the legendary status of The Sevens as one of the most significant things that happens in Hong Kong every spring cannot be denied. Even people, like a grumpy coworker of mine, who hate the event, reluctantly admit the (@*&!#%$) effects of the Sevens on the city. Hotels are sold out months in advance. The tickets sell out too, but that is mostly to do with scouser/scalpers who are somehow able to hoard loads of them form some backwater shithole in Liverpool, and then offload them on the streets all weekend. The bars bank on the weekend as one of the most lucrative of the calendar year. Pottinger Street can barely meet the demand for metallic cowboy hats, feather boas, super hero ensembles and French maid get-ups. The energy – like it or not – is tangible. and if you are up for it… it is a smashing good time. Like them or not, the Hong Kong Rugby Sevens have become an institution. They may be associated with foreigners, and frowned on by rugby traditionalists. Staid citizens may not embrace the carnival atmosphere and spectators’ antics. But during the few hectic days of competition and partying, they garner worldwide publicity and hundreds of millions of dollars for our economy.
Sponsored by Cathay Pacific and Credit Suisse, the Hong Kong tournament of the IRB series has reached a sort of clout in the rugby world that is undeniable. With the addition of the seven-a-side rugby to the 2016 Olympics, there has been much talk about that being the new Brass Ring. Here in Hong Kong, (and I would hazard a guess for many of the Antipodeans and Islanders as well) that is simply not the case. “I remember a big South Sea Islander saying that, in his view, the Hong Kong Sevens were really the Olympic Games of rugby union… the Hong Kong event captures all the really good things the game has to offer – splendid organisation, wonderful sporting spirit, universal camaraderie, admirable field behaviour…” Bill McClaren, RIP.
The impact of Olympic inclusion on rugby should be interesting (perhaps along the lines of the Invictus impact – but more so). As Olympic gold comes up for grabs the general consensus is that non-rugby-fanatical yet competition-fanatical countries will take a greater interest in the sport. That means that the US and China are suddenly going to be taken a little more seriously on the pitch, I imagine. This is not some latent patriotism raising its zealous head either, this seems to be a concept that people are already talking about in earnest. While I was in the South Stands this past Sunday watching the US play Samoa in the Cup Quarter Final match (we started out strong…) some Aussies near by started telling me what they thought of American Rugby. They said that the US was going to be a serious team to contend with as soon as they decided they wanted to win. That America simply has the best athletes, but lacks knowledge of the game at this point. I think they were being serious. It reminded me of a conversation I had with several Brits during the 2006 World Cup in a bar in Luang Prabang; I said that soccer, excuse me, football, was going to have to take notice of the US by the 2014 World Cup. Like, serious notice, because I had seen how soccer had taken off in the states over the past 20 years, rivaling basketball legitimately in youth sports. These guys were in total agreement with me on Sunday. They even bought me a beer. A liter of beer. Take note, people: Team USA – It could happen.
Maybe that should be our motto as we attempt to break into the Euro sports arena.
So, why do I get such a kick out of the Sevens? It’s like this: sunshine + super good-looking athletes + beer + general mayhem = A freaking good time. I watched a bit of rugby back in college days, though I wasn’t paying much attention to the game, and the Sevens is like that: ‘a bit of rugby.’ Which is not to disparage the game or the players at all, just to say that with seven players, in seven minute halves… the game is mildly abbreviated – as I have mentioned before, it is perfect for the novice to intermediate students of the game. And let’s face it – it is a party of epic proportions.
Everyone is in a good mood… at least until Monday morning rolls around. You meet people from all over the world who really are just out for a good time. This year, the first people I ran into were the New Zealand Aliens (the repeat Tens Champs) who I met last year… Amazing. And though many people extol the overly ex-pat nature of the Sevens weekend, I seem to always be near a group of rowdy and rambunctious locals, who really made it more fun this year when Hong Kong won the Shield (even if it was a newly created fourth consolation… it was excellent to cheer the hometown heroes on.) I was surrounded by a group from Australia, a smattering of Spring Bokke supporters who attended carefully to one of the Aliens who took his inaugural Sevens experience a little too far (though, we all decided he deserves some kind of award for setting what must be a record for most consecutive hours of vomiting), an incredibly spirited away group from Japan, more international students from Hong Kong than I care to acknowledge, a solid US contingent including a bachelor party – epic concept, that – [in terms of Americans, this year the Sevens crowds were bolstered, at least on the streets, by the arrival of the USS Blue Ridge on the prior Thursday], a tribe of Na’vi, a gregarious group of Britons currently living in Dubai who eventually did work out the four countries whose names contain only one vowel, a group of sordid Papists, and pretty much an entire stadium of French Haters (the French hating thing is very bizarre to me, but it is funny. I mean, I get why the Brits slag off the Aussies and the Aussies the Kiwis, etc… but every one “hates” the French.) I also encountered someone who I knew from long, long ago – it is always in the strangest places that our pasts come visiting. Even HST x 2. I so wish the photo was clearer than our collective vision following the very exciting final match where my beloved All Blacks went down to the Mighty Samoans. And yes, I am dressed in All Black.
The South Stands truly have it all. For a great photo album of fan shots check here.
Following the fracas at the stadium, everyone heads out. There are several choices: The Sevens Village, Wan Chai or Lan Kwai Fong. Wanting a change of scenery and having been in Wan Chai the night before I headed to Lan Kwai Fong. With a couple few other people.
A man in a pink cheongsam and a fuzzy cowboy hat got all aggressive and started yellling slurring at me for being a cougar at one point. Who knows how old he was, but it made me stop and think for a minute. And then mostly be glad that I was not dressed like a hoochie – or a hard living tranny. The revelry carries on as long as people can stand, costumes, spills, frat-boys, cougars, and all.All in all, for the Sevens this year, and for me, it was veni, vidi, vici. Team America: It Could Happen!
[Thank you Camellia for the above photos!!]