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San Francisco is hosting the Rugby World Cup Sevens at AT & T Park in July
It’s a boys – and girls – own adventure holiday. Not only do you go to an exciting destination such as California, but you also get to watch a rugby world cup there. You read that right: three full days of rugby in baseball and gridiron-loving America. AT & T Park in San Francisco, the iconic home of the 135-year-old Giants baseball team, will be transformed into a rugby pitch in the middle of the baseball season in July this year for the Rugby World Cup Sevens event. AT & T Park is a beautiful 42,000 capacity ballpark on San Francisco Bay with views of the water – some fans get there on a kayak.
It seems sacrilegious to play rugby on a field that conjures up images of America’s pastime and hot dogs. But rugby’s popularity in the US and potential for growth is not to be underestimated and it is the fastest-growing team sport in US colleges and high schools.
Organisers say San Francisco is the best place in America to host the Rugby Sevens World Cup and are keen for rugby fans from around Australia to travel to the city for it.
“We are the most diverse, most cosmopolitan city. This is an event city,” says Pat Gallagher, a former senior executive at the Giants.
He also helped organise the NFL Superbowl when it was held in the San Francisco Bay Area in 2015, an experience he co-wrote a business book about. He said he always wanted AT & T Park to host rugby from his days in charge of Giants Enterprises.
San Francisco is the country’s traditional gay capital, has always had high immigration and is historically associated with the counterculture including the beat generation, hippies, sexual revolution, summer of love and anti-war movement.
More recently there is the tech boom with Silicon Valley an hour’s drive away. The city is as diverse, non-mainstream and liberal as it gets in the US; not a lot of Donald Trump supporters here.
The world cup’s general manager, Rosie Spaulding, says locals and businesses are embracing the event and looking forward to fans that get dressed up from around the world visiting, with plenty of pageantry organised on and off the field to celebrate teams from Polynesia, Africa and so on.
Nearly half or 56,000 tickets had been sold in February with most people buying a threeday pass for the event.
There will be rugby players from 28 nations participating, representing 24 mens and 16 womens teams. There will be 32 matches on the first of three days and it will be broadcast locally on NBC.
“People love the fact its men and women, all those nations and rugby’s core values resonate well with the Bay Area and corporations even if they don’t know about rugby: inclusivity, cultural awareness,” Ms Spaulding said. San Francisco is already a desirable “destination city” but add a rugby world cup to it and that makes it even more so, says Alfonso Felder, an executive vice president at the Giants.
“What would otherwise be a great vacation, this is a cherry on top,” he said. “You can come to this part of the country and spend seven days and be busy every day seeing some of the world’s most remarkable sights, whether it’s the coast between here and the big surf, heading north and enjoying the beauty of Marin County and the wine country at Napa and Sonoma, it’s a really easy trip frankly.” Cross the water on the Golden Gate Bridge on a bike and the contrast of going from one of America’s biggest cities to a rural area is stark. Then catch a ferry back.
Gallagher recommends visitors dive into San Francisco’s foodie culture, when they are not watching rugby, and wander around the Ferry Building and Mission district, enjoying food, wine and beers.
“San Francisco is like a 49 square mile theme park. There’s different districts depending on what the nationality is. You’ve got the Mission district with its own vibe to Chinatown and North Beach,” he said.
The writer travelled as a guest of San Francisco Travel.
When not watching the rugby sevens at AT&T Park, bottom right, cross the Golden Gate bridge, above, to wander around the Ferry Building, top right, and Mission district