How do you get to Hong Kong Stadium?” I asked. When my friend responded, “Take the MTR to Causeway Bay and just follow people in chicken suits,” I knew I was in for a good time.
I had heard a lot about the Hong Kong Rugby Sevens and knew that it is a very big deal here, but I really couldn’t grasp why everyone, men and women alike, is so jazzed about a rugby tournament. That’s the problem; with apologies to rugby fans, it is not a rugby tournament at all, but a carnival during which people play rugby.
Each spring, Hong Kong is part of the circuit of 10 tournaments in 10 countries known as the Sevens World Series. Hong Kong has been referred to as the “Wimbledon” of the series. Rugby’s debut in the 2016 Summer Olympics makes this year’s tournament is all the more significant.
“Sevens” means seven men on a side playing an abbreviated game consisting of two seven minute periods. Teams from all over the world, accompanied by scores of fervent fans, come to grunt and sweat for God and Country. The whole town buzzes with anticipation and a week of parties leads up to the event. It is a very tough ticket and the privilege of joining the festivities fetches a high price in the secondary market (read “scalpers”).
Not a sports fan? The crowd provides plenty of entertainment and the adults-only South Stands are the center of the Sevens universe. Groups of people dress in costumes, some clever, some raunchy, most purchased from costume stalls on Pottinger Street, still bearing the fold lines from the packaging. I love hairy guys in drag as well as the next person, but beware of inappropriate use of spandex and many violations of the acceptable square inches of fabric per square inches of skin ratio. Yes, dear reader, as you may have guessed, there is a bit of drinking involved.
Last year I went for the fun, but this year I caught the rugby bug. For those of you who are unfamiliar with rugby, it’s a bit like American football but without pads and play is continuous rather than taking a break after each down. Athletes require strength, speed, agility, stamina and the ability to withstand violent hits from men of similar size and athleticism without being broken to pieces.
For days beforehand, the city is full of fans and if you’re lucky you may see a group of players wandering around Central. They’re easy to spot. Just watch for enormous, unbelievably fit young men whose massive physiques make them resemble superheroes.
There is also a significant rise in the number of women trying to maneuver in ridiculously fashionable but unwieldy shoes. We always have some but they are mostly found after midnight in Lan Kwai Fong, Hong Kong’s world famous party district. Since most of us who live here opt for more functional footwear when navigating Hong Kong’s steep hills and uneven pavement, spiked heels in broad daylight are a pretty reliable way of spotting a tourist in town for the tournament.
As a University of Florida grad, I’ve been to the “Gator Bowl” many times and heard it called the worlds largest outdoor cocktail party. Oh, please. It’s a cotillion dance compared to this. We witnessed the first of many incidents of extreme Sevens merrymaking at 10am. While you may see a little body paint, it would be hard to find fans dressed as Egyptians or French maids at the Gator Bowl.
The revelry includes retro entertainers and a parade featuring bagpipers and youth rugby players. This year’s headliner was David Hasselhoff with appearances by the Proclaimers who reprised their 1990’s hit, 500 Miles. The Village People rocked the house last year, looking fairly normal compared to the crowd.
Colorful costumes, festive atmosphere, athletic men in tight shorts–how could someone not love the Sevens?