- New chairman Patrick Donovan says the plan remains the same, the Hong Kong Sevens will go ahead next April despite the city’s ongoing protests
- Hong Kong Rugby Union is also in talks with World Rugby for some ‘second tier’ games next year
New Hong Kong Rugby Union chairman Patrick Donovan wasted no time in putting his stamp on the top job.
In his first interview since taking office in July, he said fans can relax, the city's iconic Hong Kong Sevens tournament will go ahead despite ongoing protests in the city that are heading into their fifth month.
"I'm absolutely committed to the Hong Kong Sevens continuing next year," said Donovan, who took over from Peter Schats who held the position since 2014. "We continue to regularly engage in dialogue with sponsors, government and all stakeholders, and there is nothing at this point in time that would lead me to view the Sevens being cancelled."
HKRU chief executive Robbie McRobbie said earlier this month: "We are fully committed to continuing."
Multiple high-profile sporting events have fallen victim to the ongoing protests in Hong Kong, which started over a now-shelved extradition bill and have extended to an anti-government movement. These include the Hong Kong Formula E-Pix, Hong Kong Tennis Open, the Harbour Race swim, the Clearwater Bay Open golf, the Cyclothon and the Hong Kong Squash Open.
[Donovan said Hong Kong has been through a number of serious events since the first tournament took place in 1976, and has been held every year since. He said there were some tricky years, which included 2003 when the Severe Acute Respiratory Sydrome (SARS) ravaged the area, and a few years when storms threatened personal safety.
The tournament also made its way through the handover in 1997 and a venue change, one it will soon undertake again when the Kai Tak Sports Park is completed in 2023.
2020 Hong Kong E-Prix race cancelled amid protest fears; Rugby Sevens still on
"I've spoken to previous chairmen during those times," said Donovan, "and there were obviously serious considerations as to the impact at that time."
He said planning is a year-long process but the HKRU has not had any discussions about cancelling and is full steam ahead with the tournament, which pumps an estimated HK$380 million into the city's economy. The tournament draws more than half of its fan base from overseas (around 40,000 people a day over the three days), most of whom stay in the city for about eight days.
[Donovan, who is from New Zealand and first came to the city in 1996 as a 26-year-old, said the HKRU is entering an interesting phase of its development. Three years ago the organisation started its elite rugby programme in the hope of taking a stab at the Rugby World Cup in Japan, which is set for its semi-finals this weekend. The men's squad came within one win of making the tournament, losing to Canada in the final game of a repechage tournament last November in France.
While there was disappointment at the loss, missing out on the tournament may have been a blessing in disguise for a programme still trying to find its footing in a game still deeply divided when it comes to the sport's top teams and the rest.
Hong Kong's men's squad are ranked 24th in the world, while Canada are ranked 22nd. The Canucks had a rough time it in Japan, being blitzed by Italy, New Zealand and South Africa before getting a 'draw' with Namibia when the match was cancelled because of weather.
[Donovan, who joined the HKRU as its director of clubs in 2012 and is both a lawyer and accountant, said the union saw trying to qualify for the Japan Rugby World Cup as a "stepping stone".
"It wasn't just going to be one year and one World Cup. Our intent was to do our best to qualify for France for 2023."
Next year, World Rugby is planning on hosting a number of "second tier" matches which would give Hong Kong a chance to play countries ranked in similar positions. There is also Global Rapid Rugby, which by all accounts, will kick off its first full season with six teams. That could mean about a dozen games all over the Asia-Pacific region next summer for the Hong Kong-based South China Tigers.
"I'm absolutely committed to the Hong Kong Sevens continuing next year."HKRU chairman Patrick Donovan
This November both the men's and women's sevens teams will get a shot at qualifying for the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo via two tournaments. The women will head to Guangzhou on November 9-10, while the men will be in Seoul on November 23-24. While the women will have to upset a number of teams to qualify, the men have a clear shot at Tokyo as Japan will not be in the tournament because they have already qualified as hosts.
Once again, Donovan is clear when it comes to the HKRU's objectives, when asked outright if the tournament is a "must win" for the men, who narrowly missed out on qualifying for the World Rugby Sevens Series April at the Hong Kong Sevens when they lost a heartbreaker to Ireland in the final.
"We have very high expectations," he declared.
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