Here is an excerpt of the SCMP article.
Studying the mysterious ways of the Sevens tribe
Action on the pitch isn’t the only thing worthy of attention this weekend
Mar 29, 2009
As thousands of revellers poured noisily into the Hong Kong Stadium at the start of the Rugby Sevens on Friday night, one unlikely looking little group filed quietly into a corner of the ground. Bookish, plainly dressed and sober, they must have looked a little out of place as they took their seats.
The presence of this small, intense-looking huddle of individuals may have puzzled some of their rowdier fellow spectators as they peered inquisitively around, scribbling notes and appearing to be far more absorbed in the antics of the crowd than the action on the pitch.
This odd group of observers was not there to watch the rugby, however. They were there to watch the fans. They were members of the Hong Kong Anthropological Society and their mission was to learn about the rituals and behaviour patterns that surround the hugely popular festival of rugby that has become one of the city’s most celebrated annual events.
Their academic antennae had been alerted by a talk on the Rugby Sevens delivered this month by Chinese University anthropologist Joseph Bosco – and their willingness to observe the phenomenon may have been fired in part by Dr Bosco’s assertion that a lot of what goes on concerns a universal pursuit: sex.
“It is clear to even a casual observer that sex is a major theme of the Sevens,” Dr Bosco says in a study based upon his years of observation at the event. “One way this can be seen is from the costumes worn by spectators. Sex-themed T-shirts are common too. One I saw read: `Sex instructor, first lesson free. Ask wearer for details. Satisfaction guaranteed’.”
Other costumes give out less obvious signals, he found. “Wearing Catholic and other religious habits is quite common,” he says. “The purity and asceticism and celibacy represented by the costume is in fact meant to symbolise the inverse: debauchery and sex.”
The Rugby Sevens is an event, Dr Bosco found, where women have the freedom to be as overtly sexual as men. “There are women in sexy costumes – sexy nurses, devils and belly dancers – men dressed as women, men in animal costumes ranging from apes to Dalmatians, men in Borat-style underwear as well as a group of Borat lookalikes,” he observes.
Other fans have turned up dressed as condoms, Arabs, superheroes and even as patriot missiles, which, Dr Bosco points out, “in addition to being powerful weapons are also phallic symbols”.
And some of the bizarre outfits almost defy categorisation. “Some have obvious interpretations – gorillas as animalistic males, chickens as bearing H5N1 bird flu, and superheroes of various sorts as epitomes of strength and virility, perhaps with a sense of irony,” Dr Bosco says.
However, some are “obscure and hard to interpret”, he admits, citing one group of fans he saw wearing helmets made out of scooped-out watermelons.
The crowd, he points out, is “overwhelmingly Caucasian”.
“All the booing is playful and not hostile, especially since the boos and cheers come from throughout the stadium,” he says. “Booing the Australians and the French is one of the traditions of the tournament.”
One of the few areas where cultural misunderstanding can take place is in the exchanges between fans and security guards, Dr Bosco points out. “The guards are older Chinese men and women and have no idea what is going on,” he says. “The chaos of the carnival aspects familiar to those of British or Anglo-Saxon culture is frightening to them. They cannot distinguish between a group having fun and a group about to cause a riot.”