Hong Kong’s rugby sevens tournament returns after 3 years

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After three years of Covid-19 cancellations and restrictions, Hong Kong’s famous Rugby Sevens tournament kicks off on Friday. With the city having scrapped all its Covid curbs, the event is being promoted as a springboard not just for sport, but for the city’s international image.

Hong Kong’s Rugby Sevens teams are fine-tuning their skills ahead of the city’s biggest international sports event. Over the past three years of Covid-19 restrictions, the tournament has been cancelled twice and then faced curbs on crowd capacity. The players can’t wait to put all that behind them.

“I hope more people will come to watch the games, so we’ll receive more support from the crowd. I think we’ll perform better with more cheering from the fans, and since all the covid restrictions have been removed, I’m sure there’ll be more overseas supporters coming too,” says Hong Kong China’s Mak Kwai-Chung.

The team faces France in their first group-stage game. They’ve avoided the toughest group… made up of South Africa, New Zealand, Ireland, and 2018 finalists Kenya. The “Hong Kong China” women’s team has high hopes for the upcoming tournament. They’re getting top-billing alongside the men’s competition for the first time, with all their matches played on the same main pitch, across the same long weekend.

“One of our core values as a team is always to inspire the next generation…I really want girls to watch rugby and really cheer us on, and if I can make one local girl start playing rugby then I’ve done my job so it’s super exciting,” says Hong Kong China’s Chloe Chan.

Their first match-up will be one to remember. They’ll take on World Series leaders New Zealand.

Hong Kong stadium is where all the action will be taking place in a venue that has hardly seen any action over the past three years as a result of Hong Kong’s strict covid-19 rules. With those restrictions now scrapped, the government is hoping events like the Rugby Sevens will put the city back on the sporting and tourism map.

“I haven’t been back in years, and it’s my first time here. And with no more lockdowns and no masks we feel much more comfortable,” a tourist explains.

“The atmosphere has changed completely. From last year, or even from the start of this year, people are enjoying life more, and life in the city is back,” a resident says.

The Hong Kong government is spending heavily to try to keep up that momentum. It’s giving away half a million flight tickets to the city hoping that it won’t just be sporting celebrations like the rugby sevens that draw a crowd in the months to come. Reporting by Richard Kimber from Hong Kong