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Hong Kong Gets Into Party Mood as Rugby Sevens Kicks Off

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Hong Kong Sevens
Fiji rugby team supporters wear blue wigs during the Hong Kong Sevens rugby competition in Hong Kong, China, on Friday, March 25, 2011. Photographer: Jerome Favre/Bloomberg

March 28 (Bloomberg) -- Hong Kong kicks off its annual Sevens rugby tournament today, with bankers and brokers set to pack corporate boxes for the premier event in the world series.

Morgan Stanley, Societe Generale SA, Prudential Plc are among those who paid as much as HK$402,270 ($51,850) for corporate boxes, while tickets for public balloting were 12 times oversubscribed this year.

The Hong Kong Sevens, featuring a Saturday performance by a Queen tribute band, draws visitors from across the world with fans dressing up as they fill the 40,000-capacity stadium to cheer their teams. Investors will take their minds off concerns over a slowdown in China’s economy, the world’s second biggest, and feast on three days of fast-paced rugby.

“The Sevens really is a weekend that Hong Kong lets its hair down,” said Ben Hartwell, Hong Kong-based Asian equities sales trader at Cantor Fitzgerald LP, attending the event for his sixth year. “The markets haven’t been kind to most and I think this year’s Sevens will be embraced even more so as a result.”

The 39th incarnation of the Hong Kong Sevens is part of a nine-tournament series held around the world, with South Africa just two points ahead of New Zealand in the standings after the first six legs.

The South stand of the stadium, known for hosting the rowdiest spectators with many in costume, normally fills by mid-morning on the weekends. This year, the city’s rugby union and the tourism board have also made available a 36,000 square meter venue overlooking the Victoria Harbour with matches on screens and music performances for those without tickets.

Central Bankers

The event coincides with the annual Credit Suisse Asian Investment conference in the city, which hosted central bankers from the U.S., Australia, New Zealand and Indonesia. Earlier in the week, Li Daokui, a former adviser to China’s central bank, told attendees that the nation is headed for a “mini crisis” in local-government debt.

“The Sevens provides a great excuse for business leaders from around the region to come into town,” said Giles Morgan, global head of sponsorship and events at HSBC Holdings Plc. “Particularly when times are tough, it brings the right people together.”

Cathay Pacific Airways Ltd., co-sponsoring the event with HSBC, said the best sales for its Sevens package came from Singapore, U.K. and Australia.

The Cosmopolitan Hotel, with room rates starting from about HK$2,000, is almost fully booked during the tournament, marketing director Charlotte Fung said March 25. The Excelsior is seeing a slight increase in occupancy from last year, said spokeswoman Wendy Lee. Both hotels are within walking distance of the Hong Kong Stadium.

Hungry Fans

Holiday Inn Golden Mile, the caterer, expects spectators to consume 10,000 hot dogs and 22,000 pies -- an increase of 1,000 items each from last year. The kitchen will be running 72 hours non-stop to feed hungry fans, it said in a statement.

“Hong Kong is the poster child of work hard-play hard,” said Lee Porter, Asia-Pacific managing director of Liquidnet Holdings Inc. “The Sevens allows everyone to blow off a bit of steam, connect with old friends and colleagues, and remind ourselves of one of the many reasons we all work so hard.”

The Hong Kong Sevens was started in 1976 by A.D.C. “Tokkie” Smith, a tobacco executive and head of the city’s rugby union. Sevens is an abridged version of rugby, with seven men on each side competing for two seven-minute sessions. The finals will comprise two 10-minute halves.

Those who remember the start of the Hong Kong series may also enjoy the Saturday performance by Queen tribute band the Queen Extravaganza, founded by two of the original band mates Roger Taylor and Brian May.

“The energy and excitement of this international event fits perfectly with Queen’s music,” singer Marc Martel said. “We can’t wait for everyone to sing along when we perform the classic stadium anthems ‘We are the Champions’ and ‘We Will Rock You.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Kana Nishizawa in Hong Kong at knishizawa5@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Sarah McDonald at smcdonald23@bloomberg.net Tan Hwee Ann, Stanley James

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