Rugby: Critical for HSBC Rugby Sevens to stay in Singapore, says Singapore Sport Institute chief Toh Boon Yi

Singapore Sport Institute chief Toh Boon Yi said the HSBC Singapore Rugby Sevens is a fantastic event with a lot of potential to be reaped still.
Singapore Sport Institute chief Toh Boon Yi said the HSBC Singapore Rugby Sevens is a fantastic event with a lot of potential to be reaped still.PHOTO: ST FILE

The HSBC Singapore Rugby Sevens still has room to grow and that is one key reason why local sports authorities are keen to retain the event on the calendar.

"We want the Sevens very much. It's a fantastic event, and there's a lot of potential to be reaped still. From the sport development perspective, it checks many boxes," Singapore Sport Institute chief Toh Boon Yi told The Straits Times on the sidelines of the event launch at the Pan Pacific Hotel yesterday.

"It is critical to keep the Rugby Sevens here. We want a healthy calendar of different levels of sports events, and it's unfortunate that tennis will leave Singapore."

He was referring to the WTA Finals, a tournament that boasts the top eight women's singles players and top eight doubles pairs, that will see its final edition in October.

Singapore's contract to host a leg of the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series runs out next year. Rugby Singapore (RS) has already submitted a bid to World Rugby, with Government agencies backing it to keep the event at the National Stadium.

Toh declined to reveal the Singapore Government's "significant amount" of investment to keep the Sevens in the country, but asserted that agencies like Sport Singapore and the Singapore Tourism Board will "continue to work with RS".

Singapore faces competition from 19 other cities to host what is now a 10-leg series. Results are expected only in June, but it appears series director Douglas Langley is sufficiently impressed at the changes Singapore is ringing in this year.

Langley said that organisers have taken on board feedback from teams and World Rugby, and have implemented several upgrades not seen last year.

These include a warm-up area with natural grass, and players' relaxation area with high-performance amenities that include food.

"There weren't that many areas of improvements because of the quality of the delivery of the tournament (in 2017)... but we'll see a lot of improvements this year, thank you very much for that," said Langley, addressing the organisers.

He added that Singapore submitted a "high-level bid", with World Rugby officials having their work cut out for them.

Langley also said that Singapore "are part of a number of good bids", adding that spectator numbers at this year's event, tournament organisation and back-of-house operations are key factors of assessment, alongside media attention that the Singapore Sevens receives.

RS executive chairman and managing director David Lim revealed that spectator numbers are pleasing. Some 52,000 fans are expected to attend the event over two days, well above last year's total of 34,000 and equalling 2016's numbers. And there are a few more days of sales to come.

He remained optimistic that Singapore will embrace the event.

"The people of Singapore may not know that they are rugby fans, yet," he said, breaking into a smile. "But this weekend, they will."

Shamir Osman

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 25, 2018, with the headline 'Critical to keep Sevens here, says SSI chief Toh'. Print Edition | Subscribe