Blend the costumes of Rio Carnival, the rugged athleticism of Calcio Fiorentino, and the beer-guzzling bacchanalia of Oktoberfest – that’s the Hong Kong Sevens, a three-day rugby tournament that’s become the most prestigious stop on the sevens circuit.
Held annually on a weekend in late March, the Hong Kong Sevens is one of the biggest sporting and social events on the city’s calendar. Fans flock to HK for first-class rugby from the world’s top teams, pumping an estimated HK$310 million into the local economy.
Alongside the die-hard sports fans come revelers who simply want to see the spectacle. The action at Hong Kong Stadium is only a small sliver of the Sevens experience. Over the course of its forty-year history, the event has evolved into a carnival that engulfs the whole city. Hong Kong’s usual bright and bustling self becomes even more vibrant during Sevens weekend.
The rugby is expertly executed. The crowds are wild. The alcohol flows freely. If you think you have what it takes to endure the three-day megafest, read on for our guide to surviving the Hong Kong Sevens.
The Story Of The Sevens
“It was the most colourful day of sport that I have ever seen. One that put Hong Kong on the international sporting map.” So said Hong Kong Rugby Football Union (HKRFU) Chairman and Sevens co-creator, A.D.C. “Tokkie” Smith, about the inaugural Hong Kong Sevens tournament.
On 28 March 1976, rugby clubs from Indonesia, South Korea, Australia, New Zealand, Tonga, Japan, Sri Lanka, Malaysia, and Fiji descended on Hong Kong for the first Sevens competition. The event expanded over the next several years, becoming one of the first rugby tournaments to attract commercial sponsorship and establishing a fixed annual date for the final weekend in March. In 1981, attendance exceded capacity for the first time in the event’s history.
There was much to celebrate when the Hong Kong Sevens reached its 20th birthday. The event had expanded to include 24 teams, earned a certification from the Guinness Book of World Records, developed several star players, moved into its home at the Hong Kong Stadium, and hosted its first Rugby World Cup Sevens tournament. The Sevens became an example for the rest of the rugby world to follow.
Now forty years in, the Hong Kong Sevens is bigger and better than ever – and a must-do for any serious rugby fan.
Rugby Sevens 101
Fast and furious: that’s the best way to describe this modified version of the traditional game. In rugby sevens, teams are made up of seven players instead of the usual 15 and matches are condensed to fourteen minutes. The game is quicker, the scores are higher, and the rules are fewer, giving it greater mass appeal than the original fifteens version.
The Hong Kong Sevens is contested by 28 international teams. Sixteen go head-to-head in the HSBC Sevens World Series core team competition and an additional 12 battle in the international HSBC Sevens World Series qualifier for a chance at promotion to the international series the following year. Surrounding the matches is a lively party atmosphere that has become one of the defining features of the Hong Kong Sevens.
After a week of competitive social rugby tournaments, the real-deal kicks off on Friday with the opening ceremony and the first games. Saturday is the biggest day of the three. Come prepared with comfortable shoes, a costume, all the stamina you can muster, and a stomach full of carbs ready to absorb all the alcohol. If you’re still standing, Sunday is finals day. Kick back, relax, recover – and consider calling in sick on Monday.
5 Tips For Sevens Survival
So you’re prepared to brave the madness of the Hong Kong Sevens for a weekend of shouting, boozing, fancy dress, and, if there’s time left over, watching some of the world’s best rugby. The tournament will take its toll on your health and your wallet, but thousands of fans agree it’s worth it. Here’s how to do it with minimal damage:
#1 Dress For Excess
Nothing ruins a weekend like being the only guy in a suit surrounded by sports fans dressed as farm animals, superheros, and Pixar characters. Costumes are highly encouraged at the Sevens, especially in the notoriously festive South Stand. Make sure your shoes are comfortable and you’re prepared for rain – you’ll spend most of the time on your feet and the weather can be unpredictable. Above all, make sure nothing you wear is cherished or irreplaceable. You’re guaranteed to be doused in beer and step in something sticky.
#2 Score Prime Real Estate
Your experience varies dramatically by where you sit. Hardcore rugby fans favour the East and West stands, where you can watch with minimal distractions. Seats are unreserved so arrive early to secure the best spots. The most notorious locale in Hong Kong Stadium is the South Stand, the epicenter of the Sevens’ alco-fuelled shenanigans. The riotous South Stand scene is legendary. Expect long queues, colourful costumes, a deafening noise level, and crazy antics you’ll want to Instagram. Don’t bring valuables or anything that can’t get soaked in a boozy shower.
#3 Avoid The Roads
Stick to public transportation as much as possible. Getting to Hong Kong Stadium is quick and easy from hotels on Hong Kong Island, but traffic is famously temperamental. Traffic jams, roadblocks, and foot traffic congestion make it almost impossible to arrive by taxi. Your best bet is to join the costumed throngs walking or taking the Mass Transit Rail system.
#4 Celebrate Beyond The Stadium
Don’t despair if you can’t get tickets to the main event. While the hub of the action is Hong Kong Stadium, there are fan-favourite ways to watch beyond its walls. The Sevens Village at the Indian Recreation Club directly opposite the stadium broadcasts the matches live on a giant screen for free. There’s also the HK Fan Zone at the New Central Harbourfront, where you can watch musicians perform and the games broadcast live outdoors.
#5 Join The After Party
The festivities continue long after the stadium empties. When the final whistle blows, head to Wan Chai and Lan Kwai Fong for a post-match tipple (or ten). Wan Chai is packed with low-key bars and pubs that overflow onto the streets with Sevens fans. Lan Kwai Fong offers a more upmarket experience, if your tastes tend toward the more expensive and trendy.
One final tip: pace yourself. Or don’t. Either way, you’ll be in the spirit of the Sevens.