Hong Kong’s Rugby Sevens annual tournament starts afresh tonight (April 8), the sporting event’s 41st appearance in “Asia’s World City.” On Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, 40,000 people will fill the Hong Kong Stadium in Causeway Bay to partake in sports, costumed tomfoolery, and booze.
The event continues to be a big draw for the the city’s bankers, as well as rugby fanatics willing to shell out airfare and lodging to view the tournament. Tickets can cost as much as HK$2,000 (about $250), for individuals lucky enough to secure a spot via lottery, and much more than that through a scalper.
While 28 teams will play in competitive rounds over three days, the Sevens is perhaps just as famous for its costume-draped spectators. Plenty of women attend, but somehow there always seem to be more men in costumes:
While seats are sold out, this year’s event appears to be drawing fewer to the city for the festivities. The South China Morning post reported that for the first time ever, hotels near the tournaments venue are not booked to capacity. Michael Li Hon-sing, executive director of Federation of Kong Kong Hotel Owners, attributed the decline to the Singapore Sevens, a similar tournament which will be held in one week.
Many Hong Kong residents outside finance remain indifferent to the event. Some tell Quartz that they have never been interested because they know nothing about rugby, which is not that popular outside of former UK commonwealth countries. Others say it’s too expensive and they don’t feel connected to the event.
Asif Ghafoor, a former Goldman Sachs employee who now runs apartment classifieds startup Spacious, will be skipping this year, as will his company. “Not many of the startups are going to be doing much of anything,” he tells Quartz. “The ticket prices tend to get inflated pretty quickly, and the sport itself is actually not that great. It really is just more for the social side of it, and getting unbelievably drunk.”
The event has also grown tamer in recent years. After attendees were injured, the stadium began cracking down on throwing plastic beer jugs. There’s also fewer streakers.
“There’s more security and more a metal fences. But to be honest, that was one of the highlights of the sevens—watching the drunken streakers being chased around by security guards,” Matthew Farrar, a Hong Kong resident who has attended every tournament since 1993, told Quartz (Farrar runs an advertising agency that works with Quartz). “There’s always someone that wants to be chased running naked.”
This year’s opening ceremony features an unusual guest—David Hasselhoff, the actor best known as the lead in 90’s beach-themed TV series Baywatch. The 62-year-old will entertain the audience with a live musical performance.
Choosing Hasselhoff probably won’t do much to help change the Sevens’ reputation as a haven for old school drunk guys. On the plus side, maybe he’ll show up in costume as well.