Having a (rugby) ball

HSBC returns as Hong Kong Sevens sponsor

Having a (rugby) ball

Giles Morgan

Part party, part global sporting event, another Hong Kong Sevens weekend is finally over, with Fiji emerging as winners. For many in Hong Kong, the Sevens is the sporting highlight of the year. And this year’s event also marked a welcome return for the territory’s leading bank. After a decade and a half away, HSBC is once again a title sponsor of this celebrated tournament alongside local airline Cathay Pacific.

HSBC’s group head of sponsorship and events, Giles Morgan, talked to WiC about the importance of the Hong Kong Sevens, and why he thinks China may even win it in the not-too-distant future…

What does it mean for HSBC to be sponsoring the Hong Kong Sevens again?

It means a lot to HSBC. The Hong Kong Sevens really reflects the biggest local social and sporting event in Hong Kong. But it’s also international, with 23 countries participating, as well as Hong Kong itself. And people come to watch it from all over the world, both our clients and tourists. So it very much reflects HSBC and where we are: an internationally-connected organisation, with its ­­roots firmly in Hong Kong.

What was the symbolism of having Sir William Purves present the cup last Sunday?

That was a decision made by our CEO, Stuart Gulliver. He felt that it was appropriate that our former chairman, and someone who has played such a major role in the evolution of HSBC, do this.

After all, we were returning as sponsor after a 16 year hiatus. It was a very touching gesture – Willie has just celebrated his eightieth birthday – and giving him this honour was a reminder of the bank’s history. It was something that was appreciated by many HSBC staff, as well as the Hong Kong corporate community.

What do you think makes the Hong Kong Sevens such a special event?

It’s obviously a huge social event in Hong Kong, where everyone comes out to play and enjoy a carnival atmosphere. But what makes it even more special now is that the International Olympic Committee has made Rugby Sevens an Olympic sport. It’s becoming a global game. And the Hong Kong Sevens is pre-eminent among the modern day Sevens tournaments. Indeed, in my view it has been the catalyst for popularising Sevens rugby and ensuring that it becomes part of the Olympic movement. I think rugby owes the Hong Kong Sevens a big debt of gratitude.

Why is HSBC keen to sponsor rugby?

It’s a sport that’s all about integrity, teamwork and fair play. Those kind of values match our own.

How did China do this time round?

Not so well. They beat Uruguay but lost to Tonga, and also to Hong Kong by 29 points to 5. The latter result was obviously a popular one with the local crowd!

But China is going to get there. It will take five or six years before their Sevens team starts to deliver top quality results on the field. It’s clear that they are committed as a country to developing Sevens – which will be played at the Rio Olympiad in 2016. Every year you are seeing fitter, stronger and better athletes representing China. It’s only a matter of time.

There’s no physical barrier to entry for Sevens rugby. It needs speed, agility and technical nouse rath­­­er than huge, thundering men and women. So you are looking at a sport where everyone is on an equal footing.

So you think there’s a chance of a Chinese team winning the Hong Kong Sevens in the next decade?

If the resources are put into it, and there is the self-belief, there’s no reason why not. China has enough athletes to choose from, and Sevens is a very simple game to play and understand.

It will be wonderful to see China rise through the world rankings.

What was the purpose of the Sevens village that HSBC set up at this year’s event?

Well, two things. We tried to engage as much of the local community as we could, to make the Hong Kong Sevens accessible. There are only 40,000 tickets a day, so not everyone can get in.

We wanted to make it possible for people to come down and sample the atmosphere free of charge, as well as introduce rugby through entertaining games on the giant screen.

And it was also an opportunity for those with tickets to get away from the cauldron of the stadium. It was just over the road and our village was mobbed all three days – we think 11,000 people passed through. Our ambition is make the Sevens Village even bigger next year and to help local people in Hong Kong appreciate this tremendous event they have on their doorstep.

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