HONG KONG Rugby Union has been given the green light from the city’s government to hold the Cathay Pacific/HSBC Sevens tournament in a move seen by many as a rolling maul in favour of restoring the confidence of the corporate finance world in the city.
The weekend-long tournament was last held in April 2019 with the HKRU having to postpone the event several times due to the Covid pandemic.
The Sevens, scheduled for November, will coincide with a government sponsored banking conference to show that Hong Kong remains a global financial centre. The move to make a lineout manoeuvre between the two events is the brainchild of Financial Secretary Paul Chan who wants to assure banking chiefs that the city is a safe and open society for international investors. Furthermore, he will stress how the National Security Law, though much criticised abroad, is credited as bringing stability to the city following the civil disturbances of 2019.
Whether Mr Chan will be conveying this message as players run in tries on the pitch below remains to be seen, but it’s known that watching the rugby from the stadium’s corporate boxes during the Sevens is as rare as a Wales World Cup win. The Hong Kong finance chief should have a captive audience whether at the stadium or in the conference hall.
Swift and secure passing of the ball from the government to bankers is of the essence and there have been cases, as with JP Morgan chief executive Jamie Dimon and actress Nicole Kidman, where quarantine restrictions have been waived in the hope of boosting Hong Kong’s standing in the world’s corporate and cultural spheres.
Talks are underway to reduce the mandatory hotel quarantine period for arrivals from seven days with officials deliberating how many nights should be spent at a designated hotel and the remainder at home in the case of Hong Kong residents. One local event planner likened the exercise to the Manhattan Project – the top secret Allied weapons R&D programme during World War II, which was a painstaking process.
A decision is expected this week, but the strategy is less clear for non-resident arrivals, as is the case with tens of thousands who have traditionally attended the annual.
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- Stringent rules on social distancing are also likely to be imposed at the stadium during the Sevens with an 85 per cent capacity limit and spectators gathering in groups no larger than eight.
- Fans must keep their masks on when not eating and drinking with stewards reportedly being assigned to remind revellers to do so.
- Beverages (usually beer or Pimms) can be consumed in the stands but food must be consumed in designated areas.
Whether or not the government kicks stringent quarantine rules into touch remains to be seen. Observers have pointed to the Singapore F1 Grand Prix, another popular event with corporates where travel restrictions have been lifted and takes place a month before the Sevens.
A top political conference is also expected to be held in Beijing in November and which usually sets the path for China’s future development and how the country plans to deal with the challenges it faces economically and geopolitically. The gathering is no ordinary scrum. It may well unlock China’s Covid conundrum with either a declaration of victory over the virus or prolonging the fight.
All it then needs is Hong Kong’s business events recovery to soar down the wing come November for five points followed by a conversion between the posts.