Rugby’s Hong Kong, Singapore Sevens await fate as virus hammers Asian sport

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Rugby’s Hong Kong and Singapore Sevens were expected to be postponed on Thursday as Asian sport reels from the coronavirus, with the Chinese Grand Prix, golf and football fixtures among the long list of casualties.

World Rugby was set to announce the fate of Hong Kong and Singapore, the only Asian events on this year’s global sevens series, at 5:00 pm (0900 GMT), with some reports saying they would be put on hold.

The announcement comes a day after the Chinese Grand Prix in Shanghai, scheduled for April 19, was postponed, becoming the biggest single sports event affected by COVID-19 so far.

The Hong Kong Sevens is scheduled for April 3-5, with Singapore a week later. Both cities are scrambling to deal with the virus, with 50 confirmed cases each and one death in Hong Kong.

The COVID-19 death toll leapt to 1,355 on Thursday with nearly 60,000 infections in China, where the virus is thought to have emerged in the city of Wuhan.

World Rugby would not reveal any details of Thursday’s announcement, describing “a rapidly-evolving situation, which we continue to monitor in close collaboration with key stakeholders”.

“It would be inappropriate to speculate on any potential impact at this stage,” a spokesman told media.

But many inside the sport did not expect the Hong Kong tournament to go ahead as scheduled.

“It’s obviously a real shame but they have to put the health of those involved and attending first so it’s the right thing to do if it’s postponed,” Ben Ryan, who coached Fiji to Olympic sevens gold in 2016, told the South China Morning Post.

The Hong Kong Sevens, an annual fixture since 1976, is an important source of revenue and prestige for a city which has plunged into recession following months of pro-democracy protests and the US-China trade war.

The colourful, three-day tournament, a guaranteed sell-out, is the signature event of the 10-stop sevens series and was a driving force behind the sport’s Olympic inclusion.

Asia’s sports schedule has been hammered by the coronavirus, with Singapore’s HSBC Women’s World Championship, starting on February 27, among two golf events cancelled this week.

The start of China’s Super League football is indefinitely on hold, and Chinese clubs are mostly sidelined from Asia’s Champions League until April.

Athletics’ World Indoor Championships, due to be held in Nanjing in March, were postponed for a year, while boxing, tennis, basketball, skiing, diving, snooker and badminton have also been affected in China.

But the biggest domino to fall was Shanghai’s Formula One grand prix, which was postponed “to ensure the health and safety of the travelling staff, championship participants and fans”, the FIA, motorsport’s governing body, said on Wednesday.

No new date was proposed for the race – one of 22 on this year’s calendar – and there has been no announcement about the inaugural grand prix in Vietnam, scheduled for April 5.