Hong Kong’s rugby sevens tournament will return after a three-year coronavirus pandemic hiatus, organisers confirmed Saturday, with the event likely adopting a Beijing Olympics-style “closed-loop” system.
The Asian finance hub has been cut off from the world for more than two years, as it hews to its own version of China’s strict zero-Covid rules.
International flights remain well below pre-pandemic levels and all arrivals must currently undergo a week of mandatory hotel quarantine.
The restrictions have hammered Hong Kong’s economy and its ability to host major events.
But the Hong Kong Sevens is now set to be the city’s first major international sports competition to receive an official green light since the pandemic began.
The tournament — which was the highlight of the global sevens circuit and once drew thousands of tourists pre-pandemic — will be held November 4th to 6th.
It will follow “prevailing Covid measures in place at the time”, the Hong Kong Rugby Union said in a statement.
“After three and a half years without a Sevens I am confident this will be a very special event,” rugby union chair Patrick Donovan said.
The rugby union earlier proposed to the government that the tournament be held using a “closed-loop” system that would isolate athletes, support staff and venue personnel for seven days leading up to the event.
Organisers said on Saturday they received government approval and will continue to consult with officials, with event details to be announced later.
Covid mitigation measures for the tournament are estimated to cost around HK$50 million ($6.4 million), organisers told AFP last month.
The competition — which used to be one of Hong Kong’s top social events and attracted a stadium crowd of 40,000 — will cap its ground capacity to 85 percent and limit spectator numbers, the South China Morning Post newspaper reported.
A resumption of the sevens will be a much-needed boost for sports-starved locals but it is unclear whether many international fans will travel to Hong Kong while mandatory quarantine rules remain.
Hong Kong’s new administration, which took office this month, has been hinting at a potential easing of quarantine rules even as China remains committed to its zero-Covid policy.
Earlier this month, Health Secretary Lo Chung-mau said conditional quarantine-free travel could be allowed by November, in time for the Sevens as well as a global bankers’ summit to be held in Hong Kong.
The vast majority of international sporting events are now being held without the kind of strict controls seen earlier in the pandemic.
China is the exception.
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 almost all times.
In May, China withdrew as the host of the 2023 Asian Cup football tournament due to the coronavirus. China has also pushed back its hosting of the 2022 Asian Games by a year.