To sports fans, it’s world-class rugby. To the costumed in the stands, it’s the biggest party of the year. For three days, the world comes together for Hong Kong’s marquee sporting event, when the bars are packed, the streets of Causeway Bay exude festival energy and the stadium takes on a life of its own. It’s a reminder to all that there’s no place like Hong Kong.
The world’s greatest rugby tournament started in a very Hong Kong way: humbly, with a side order of capitalism.
In 1976 the idea of a sports tournament began over a boozy lunch as a way to market a tobacco brand (those were the days!) and, a few months later, 3,000 people showed up to watch an afternoon of seven-a-side rugby.
But as Hong Kong boomed in the 1980s, the Sevens boomed alongside it. The tournament built a reputation for bringing together sides from all across the world. The city was hooked. These days 120,000 people fight tooth and nail to score a ticket to the Cathay Pacific/HSBC Hong Kong Sevens.
For many, going to the Sevens is a rite of passage. I know those who’ve been going since they were kids. I’m a relative latecomer. But the second I arrived at my first Sevens, I realised just how much I’d been missing.
See, Hong Kong isn’t exactly famed for its sporting prowess. Our football team doesn’t qualify for the World Cup; nor do we host Formula 1. But we all know we have the best Sevens tournament in the world.
At the Sevens I look around the stands and see thousands who have flown in to support their teams, and I’m proud that I can host them. At the Sevens, I see the internationalism of this wonderful city come to life. And if I can party at the same time? Well, it’s the Hong Kong way.
That’s where the South Stand comes in. It is by universal agreement the party end of the stadium, a chaotic mix of ingenious costumes, revelry and noise that’s at the very heart of the Sevens, a glorious rabble that’s made Sweet Caroline the stadium anthem.
Take the 2016 Sevens: I’m in the South Stand, cracking into another pre-lunchtime beer. But on the pitch, a Fijian player has broken free and he’s sprinting to the try line. A roar takes over the stadium. I’m on my feet, beer discarded, yelling alongside a hundred other nations in the stands. He’s tearing forwards, weaving, leaping, diving… it’s a try! Exhilaration floods in, washing against the seats.
And then, over the speakers…
The South Stand takes up the call, people of all nations united by rugby, beer and one cheesy song. I can’t possibly resist: ‘Good times never seemed so good…!’
Hero image: Mike Pickles
This article was originally published in April 2017 and updated in February 2019