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Why did Wellington Sevens fail so spectacularly?

We all know the last Wellington Sevens was a disaster in terms of attendance. A truly unmitigated failure of planning.

There have been many simplistic arguments as to why, but has anyone really articulated why this great event collapsed so spectacularly?

Let’s go back a bit. In the early days, the Sevens organisers turned this event in to a fun party. They encouraged costumes, loud music and drinking by introducing the red zone.

It was a great mix and naturally attracted a young crowd. It was very much modelled on the success of the Hong Kong Sevens.

I remember going to the Sevens and really enjoying the fun atmosphere. I personally didn’t enjoy or agree with the red zone concept, but it had its own atmosphere and attracted a very zealous element.

I loved the parades and parties of young people in costumes. It was a truly carnival atmosphere.

Then something went wrong. It was a mixture of the following.

The Fun Police stepped in. The Fun Police was (or is) a mixture of the righteous, arrogant, selfish, envious and jealous lot of people. They can be older, conservative people, or younger politically correct hypocrites.

Because of their views, the Wellington City Council joined in to stop this party and make it a more family-oriented event.  They didn’t like the way people were getting drunk, throwing up and “locking up” the emergency ward (by the way, I am not condoning this behaviour – in fact, it was not a very good look for the Sevens – and as I point out below, very much linked to our drinking culture).

The press, like The Dominion Post and NZ Herald, got in on the act too, headlining the antics of what they called a very serious situation.

Unfortunately, while only 30 people were arrested in 2008, some 100 were ejected from the stadium, and sadly this theme continued over the coming years.

At its peak, over 33,000 people were having fun. But, unfortunately, it seemed that everyone was being tarred with the behaviour of a drunken element (if my maths are right, 30 arrests and 100 evictions equals .39% of those attending!).

Then the Police stepped in. They introduced breath testing at the entrance to the stadium. They enforced limitations on drinking in the ground to a ridiculous level.

But it was really the breath testing outside the ground that the young people found so guiling. You have paid a ticket to the stadium, but you’re breath tested before you could enter. Naturally, the young, fun loving people found this abhorrent, and why would you want to put up with this? Let’s not bother coming, they said.

Then there is the stadium itself – a poorly serviced outfit to say the least.

The offerings were shocking: poor food, crap beer and wine, and appalling service.

I had the luxury of using the Deloitte’s lounge, but even here, the service was shocking.

For example, on one Saturday night, it took me nearly 20 minutes to get a couple of drinks (and the queue was not long at all – it was simply a case of the staff being poorly trained and system failure).

Yet later that night I went to Bangalore Polo Club on Courtenay Place to meet friends (by the way, not my favourite bar, so this is not an advert for the place). The place was totally packed, and the bar heaving with drinkers. I got a drink in three minutes flat!

On top of this, as you enter the stadium, you are greeted, not with welcome, enjoy yourself, but a series of threats (probably required) of what would happen to you if you did this and that, like eviction, fines and imprisonment.

Authorities, please remember that 95% of us are law abiding citizens. We don’t need to be treated like potential criminals.

Now that the Fun Police, city council, Police, and press had got their way, the Sevens organisers were forced to change the concept of the event to a more family affair.

Gone was the red zone, drinks were severely limited. Breath testing was probably still there. However, ticket prices still remained high. But did families and older people come back to replace the young people? No.

The Sevens is not a family event. The above groups did not understand this. Older people are not really into sitting around for two days watching rugby.

To cap this off, the Sevens organisers moved the event from a Friday/Saturday to a Saturday/Sunday event. Bizarre! This killed off the corporates! Brilliant!

The advertising has been scant. This year, I didn’t even know the Sevens was on, or that it started on a Saturday. I saw more advertising for the Auckland Nines than for the Sevens in Wellington.

Even though the organisers said they had listened to what people wanted, it was all too late. The horse had bolted and no-one cared anymore or wanted to go to something they weren’t welcome to.

But that is not all. There is a lot to be said about our appalling drinking culture. Yes, our attitude to drinking, and especially the young, is not very good.

Having said that, I’ve been to many a concert, or even functions, where I have seen young and old alike behaving badly.

The attitude to drink in New Zealand is very immature, even bordering on the barbaric. And no, I’m not a bore. I like a drink as much as anyone.

But since I was young enough to drink, I couldn’t understand society’s attitude to alcohol (including myself at times – though I haven’t been truly drunk for a very long time).

Why do I raise this when I have been going on about the Fun Police, etc., stopping young people having fun and getting drunk?

Well, simply, this very fact played into the hands of the so called Fun Police, authorities and the PC brigade. It was an easy target.

Sadly, they have a point. But the reaction to the fun was way over the top. It didn’t really address the underlying social issues of drinking in New Zealand and how we have fun. It was just plain negative.

Financially, this whole sorry saga has put a big dent in the coffers of Wellington businesses (and the stadium of course). The consequences of overreaction.

We may never see such an event like the Sevens again in Wellington. Our attitude to having fun needs to change in many ways.

New Zealand has to grow up and mature before such an event like the Sevens once was can happen again. New Zealand is not ready for a true Mardi Gras or Munich Beer Festival.

The Fun Police etc., just would let that happen.