Photo credit: May James Photography
The Hong Kong Sevens is getting ready to say farewell to its long-term home and move to a new stadium in a major reboot as rival cities up their game.
"I think the grand old lady that is Hong Kong Stadium is iconic, you look around it and the hairs on the back of your neck go up," said Hong Kong Rugby Union chief executive Robbie McRobbie.
"It's beautiful but it's old and it's tired and quite frankly we are excited about going to a state-of-the-art brand new stadium."
In December, a Hong Kong developer won the bid to develop a new, harbourside stadium on the site of the city's former Kai Tak airport, famed for its skyscraper-fringed runway approach.
It will bring Hong Kong's facilities up to speed with newer arrivals like Singapore, which will host this week's leg of the world circuit at a 55,000-capacity stadium with a retractable roof and air-cooling for spectators.
Photo credit: Hong Kong Sevens
Most observers say Hong Kong remains the top event of the world sevens series, largely because of its packed stands and party atmosphere, as well as its unparalleled pedigree.
"The sevens is not sevens without Hong Kong," said New Zealand legend John Kirwan, adding that people-watching at the South Stand's raucous human "zoo" was his favourite experience of the tournament.
A leaked World Rugby survey of last year's sevens series, which evaluated the 10 host cities by factors such as training facilities and stadium amenities, rated Hong Kong just fifth, with Vancouver top and Singapore second.
However, McRobbie said there was a good relationship between all host cities.
"Honestly, hand on heart, we don't look at any of the other tournaments as rivals or threats," he said.
Photo credit: info.gov.hk
Development of the new venue at Kai Tak has already been plagued by delays, as it was originally forecast to be completed this year.
McRobbie said he was confident the stadium would be ready by 2024, adding that HKRU had been consulted during tender planning on how best to replicate the current crowd experience.
"In Hong Kong, they can build things very quickly, so I think four years, that's doable," he said. "(The government) are very aware of all the bits that have made this experience so successful."
With World Rugby plotting an expansion into Asian countries, buoyed by sevens' Olympic status and Japan's hosting of this year's World Cup, Hong Kong will be looking to carve their place in the sun.