In Summary
  • The Hong Kong Sevens has grown from an end-of-season bash to a globally acclaimed festival of rugby, inspiring the World Cup Sevens and World Sevens Series - and tens of thousands of fans, who don outrageous fancy dress and party till they drop in the stands.

HONG KONG

As Japan gears up to host Asia's first Rugby World Cup, they might give a nod of thanks in the direction of continental neighbours Hong Kong for helping to make it all possible.

The Hong Kong Sevens has grown from an end-of-season bash to a globally acclaimed festival of rugby, inspiring the World Cup Sevens and World Sevens Series - and tens of thousands of fans, who don outrageous fancy dress and party till they drop in the stands.

Its 43-year history has been liberally sprinkled with legends such as Jonah Lomu, David Campese, Waisale Serevi and Zinzan Brooke.

The city holds the accolade of being the only two-time hosts of the Sevens World Cup (1997 and 2005), reward for Hong Kong's pivotal role in developing the oval-ball game across the world's most populous continent.

The growth of sevens resulted in rugby's return to the Olympics in 2016 after a 92-year absence.

None of that was in the wildest dreams of a group of club enthusiasts when they devised the event, according to former Hong Kong Rugby Football Union president Brian Stevenson, who has been involved from the start and was treasurer for the inaugural staging in 1976.

"There had never been a thought about a kind of international sevens. I thought it was a very innovative idea," says Stevenson, HKRFU president from 2001 to 2016, at the Hong Kong Jockey Club in Happy Valley, within kicking distance of where it all began.

Stevenson describes how a capacity 3,000 crowd packed Hong Kong Football Club to see New Zealand's Cantabrians win against sides from Indonesia, South Korea, Australia, Tonga, Japan, Sri Lanka, Malaysia and Fiji.

"Nobody would have expected it to take off as it has. We've been most fortunate," says the Scot.

"I always felt it was the nature of Hong Kong and its location. This is probably the most international city in Asia. And when the fans came in, this was all pretty good.

"You think of the timing, 1976. Hong Kong was developing as a financial centre. Cathay Pacific was beginning to expand its wings. So there's a lot of things together that really made it."

The seed for the Hong Kong Sevens was sown when A.D.C. "Tokkie" Smith, then chairman of the Hong Kong RFU, attended the Scottish Rugby Union centenary sevens at Murrayfield in 1973.

By 1975 he had plans for an international 15-a-side tournament, but they were met with resistance from the governing body of the then strictly amateur sport.

"They were not helpful at all," says Stevenson. "So the way around it was an invitational sevens. I don't think any of us expected it to take off. Well, it was absolutely enormous."

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