The famous Hong Kong Sevens could return in November for the first time in more than three years under a Beijing Olympics-style “closed-loop” system, organisers told AFP Wednesday.
The highlight of the World Rugby Sevens Series calendar is renowned for its raucous party atmosphere, but it has not been staged since April 2019 as Hong Kong stuck to a zero-Covid policy with strict rules on travel, quarantine and public gatherings.
Hong Kong Rugby Union CEO Robbie McRobbie said the Olympic-style plans had proved acceptable to World Rugby but still had to be given the “green light” by the city government after which a final decision would be made whether to go ahead.
“Significant challenges remain, not least the cost of implementing the Covid mitigation measures,” said McRobbie in an email statement to AFP.
“But we will do all we can to get this on — we know how important it is for our city to get going again.”
The arrangements would see 16 men’s teams and their support staff, as well as personnel running the stadium, hospitality and hotels, confined to a closed-loop system for seven days leading up to the November 4-6 tournament.
The women’s tournament, usually played alongside the men’s, will not take place in 2022.
McRobbie said affordability would be crucial in deciding whether the Hong Kong Sevens could go ahead, with the Covid-secure measures adding a whopping HK$50 million (US$6.4 million) to the bill for staging the tournament.
The event is one of city’s biggest social events, normally seeing 40,000 sell-out crowds for all three days with fan zones, bars and restaurants across the city catering to thousands more.
Spectators would be outside of the closed loop under the HKRU plans, but the Hong Kong government at present still limits most gatherings in public to a maximum of four people.
The Beijing Winter Olympics in February saw nearly 3,000 athletes and more than 60,000 support staff, volunteers, journalists and others cocooned in a vast bubble where they were tested every day and had to wear a mask at all times.
McRobbie said the event’s return would bring huge benefits to the travel, hospitality and events sectors which had “suffered greatly over the past three years” while the city has been largely cut off from the rest of the world because of the pandemic.
“My feeling is if we can afford it we should do it,” he said.