Rugby: SportSG and Sports Hub to take over running of Singapore 7s from SRU and Rugby Singapore

Australia and Fiji players in action during the HSBC Singapore Rugby Sevens final at the National Stadium on April 29, 2018.
Australia and Fiji players in action during the HSBC Singapore Rugby Sevens final at the National Stadium on April 29, 2018.PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - There are only three months to go before Singapore opens its doors to again welcome the world's best rugby sevens players on April 13 and 14.

But there has been hardly any publicity for the fourth edition of the HSBC Singapore Rugby Sevens and The Straits Times understands that the Singapore Rugby Union (SRU), which holds the rights to the tournament, and its commercial arm Rugby Singapore (RSG), will no longer jointly organise the Singapore leg of the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series.

Instead, national sports agency Sport Singapore (SportSG) and the Singapore Sports Hub will now put together the event that has attracted 140,000 fans over the last three years.

Insiders revealed that the existence of expensive deals raised eyebrows, and RSG staff were told in a meeting in November that they would be seconded to either SportSG or the Sports Hub to help organise the Singapore 7s.

SportSG declined to reveal details of what happened behind the scenes, but a spokesman said in response to queries from ST: "The HSBC Singapore Rugby Sevens has been doing well over the years. Particularly, last year's edition was very well-received in the series circuit where the well-attended event created positive memories for everyone.

"We aim to build on this foundation and will always look at ways to enhance our offerings.

"This year, Sport Singapore, Singapore Sports Hub and Singapore Rugby Union will continue to work together to ensure that the Singapore 7s will be a great sporting event and experience for the fans, players, volunteers, officials and spectators."

The situation has surfaced at a tricky time for the Singapore 7s. The current contract ends after this year's edition and the Republic has submitted a bid to continue to host a leg of the series.

Sources close to World Rugby revealed that the sport's international body wants Singapore to continue hosting a leg of the series, but it refused to be pulled in on the matter.

"World Rugby will confirm the successful host unions for the next four-year cycle of HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series shortly. Until this time, we will not provide comment with regard to the process or outcomes," said its spokesman.

This move by SportSG, at least on the surface, goes against its mantra of encouraging self-sustainability in national sports associations (NSAs).

In 2017, former SRU president Low Teo Ping told ST that the Singapore 7s will provide the SRU a sturdy platform from which it can propel the sport into the future.

He said then: "The long-term goal would be to wean ourselves away from government grants... which is a realistic target within five years. That money can be given to other sports instead."

SportSG administers government funding - close to $90 million each year for grants to NSAs and all national athletes. The SRU receives annual funding of between $750,000 and $1 million.

It remains unclear if profits from the 2019 event will be channelled back into the sport.

ST also understands that the SRU is in the process of renewing its status as an Institution of Public Character (IPC).

Governance and tight financial reporting are two key factors for organisations looking to receive IPC status which allows for a 250 per cent tax deduction for all donations made to an accredited organisation.

"As part of the IPC status renewal process, SportSG has asked the SRU to address some of the audit findings that we found during our scheduled internal audit. Once we are satisfied with the rectification, we will renew their IPC status accordingly," said a SportSG spokesman.

A SRU spokesman said: "SRU's management committee and finance department have addressed the audit points and have updated SportSG accordingly.

"We are extremely optimistic that SportSG will renew our IPC status soon."