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Thursday, Jun 13, 2024

Normal service resumes as fans flock to Hong Kong Sevens and city’s nightspots

Normal service resumes as fans flock to Hong Kong Sevens and city’s nightspots

New Zealand’s men and women win respective Cup finals at Hong Kong Stadium, while Chief Executive John Lee feels ‘the vibe’ as atmosphere returns to landmark sporting occasion.

The Hong Kong Sevens ended in a cacophony of noise, fireworks and flame on Sunday, with New Zealand’s men and women underlining their dominance of the sport on the field.

The victories in their respective finals, with the women overcoming Australia and the men beating Fiji to claim their first title in Hong Kong since 2014, were no less impressive for being entirely expected the longer the tournament went on.

Off the pitch, the 75,000 fans who passed through the gates over the course of the three days signalled a return to normal in Hong Kong, and business leaders said they had noticed the financial impact of the event, which in the past has pumped hundreds of millions of dollars into the city’s economy.

There was local success too, with the Hong Kong’s men team claiming some silverware for the first time since 2010 after beating Kenya and Canada on a pulsating final day that started with rain and a smattering of fans.

That the stadium was largely empty for long periods of the event was not just related to the weather – keeping people’s attention for 12 hours a day is difficult on any occasion.

Hong Kong Chief Executive John Lee (centre) presents the winner’s trophy to the New Zealand men’s team.

Still, Chris Brooke, the Hong Kong Rugby Union chairman, said that even at less than full capacity he felt the atmosphere had reached pre-Covid levels.

“I think from our perspective it’s been a very successful weekend,” Brooke said. “We’ve done better than our target ticket sales. All the corporate boxes were full and you could just feel a really great vibe in the stadium.”

The presence of the city’s leader, John Lee Ka-chiu, for the second Sevens in five months, also said much for its continued importance, as did the attendance of Secretary for Culture, Sports and Tourism Kevin Yeung Yun-hung and Hong Kong Jockey Club officials.

Lee’s enthusiasm for the Sevens is unlikely to have been hurt by the double dose of the haka the winners performed in front of officials after being presented with their trophies.

The chief executive said he had gone to watch the final to “feel the vibe of the game with the fans and the audience”.

Fans party in the South Stand as DJ Soda, seen in the screen behind them, performs a set on the third day of the Hong Kong Sevens.

“Similar international events will come one after another, injecting vitality into Hong Kong,” Lee wrote on social media afterwards. “In addition to creating a ‘happy Hong Kong’ for local citizens, it will also attract tourists from different places to come to Hong Kong to feel the warm atmosphere.”

And while most of the support this year came from local residents, overseas visitors returned from Japan, Paris, London, Fiji and everywhere in between.

“Seven years ago, I came to Hong Kong to play as a youth representative of Japan in a tournament,” said Mana Furuta, a 25-year-old administrative officer. “The vibe here is amazing – especially because people are taking off their masks and enjoying the games and fresh air at the same time.”

The return to normal was felt in the city’s nightspots too, and Allan Zeman, the chairman of the Lan Kwai Fong Group, estimated that since the Sevens began last Friday business had been up about 25 per cent.

New Zealand’s Leroy Carter (right) fends off Fiji’s Waisea Nacuqu in the men’s Cup final.

Zeman said the boost to takings in the pubs and clubs showed that Hong Kong was “back in a strong way, which is really something that we’ve waited for a long time”.

“All these people that are coming from overseas, they see the Sevens, Art Basel and Clockenflap, all these things have just been a game changer,” he said. “They’ve been great for Hong Kong.”

According to Zeman, who watched the Sevens from the Hong Kong Rugby Union’s box, people who left during the height of the pandemic were thinking about returning to the city.

It will be another year before the Sevens does so, and then it will be at Hong Kong Stadium for the last time. There will be plenty of fireworks then too, and no doubt two New Zealand teams once again looking to dominate proceedings.


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