Top rugby tournament set to call S'pore home

First Formula One, then tennis. Now the world's premier rugby sevens tournament is also set to call Singapore home.

The Sevens World Series will join a growing list of marquee sports events to anchor in Singapore, boosting the Republic's reputation as a growing sports hub.

The Singapore Sevens, which was last hosted in 2006, will be held at the $1.33 billion Singapore Sports Hub for four years, starting from the 2015/2016 season.

It will mark the first time four world-class sports events will be hosted in Singapore in the same year, following F1's Singapore Grand Prix, tennis' WTA Finals and swimming's Fina World Cup.

The Straits Times understands that the Singapore Rugby Union (SRU) inked a Host Union Agreement last week with the International Rugby Board (IRB).

Singapore is expected to join Vancouver and Paris as new stops on the nine-leg series, with Tokyo, Las Vegas and Glasgow reportedly making way. The eight- month-long competition features the world's top 16 national teams, including New Zealand and Australia, playing the shorter and faster sevens rugby, which will make its Olympics debut in 2016.

SRU officials declined to confirm the deal, having signed a confidentiality agreement with the IRB. An official announcement is expected later this month.

The addition of the sevens series to the sporting calendar is seen as a coup for the country's ambitions as it eyes a slice of the global sports pie, which, according to a PricewaterhouseCoopers report, could reach US$145 billion (S$186 billion) next year.

The F1 race at Marina Bay remains the country's biggest sporting draw, generating about $150 million in incremental tourism receipts each race. The WTA Finals, which made its Singapore debut last month, is expected to net about $15 million from each of the five instalments here.

Sevens rugby is widely viewed as a money-spinner for host cities. A 2012 report by the Hong Kong Tourism Board revealed that tourists spent an average of HK$12,873 (S$2,100) during the 2011 Hong Kong Sevens, with the direct economic benefit to the city totalling HK$282 million.

With the Sports Hub equipped to host a number of events ranging from cricket to athletics, it is understood that other high-profile events are being sought.

CIMB economist Song Seng Wun said: "To be a global sporting hub, we need a wide variety of events of international standing, so people don't just see us as hosts of the F1 night race."

But besides attracting the big names in sport, it is equally important that the local game also benefits - which is why the SRU plans to stage the first South-east Asian Sevens in the week leading up to the Singapore Sevens.

SRU president Low Teo Ping said: "Whatever we do needs to have an impact on our community, so improving our national team is a priority, as is boosting our outreach to find the next generation of Singapore players."

This article was first published on Nov 3, 2014.
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