OPINION: As some wag once wryly observed, anyone who gets bored at the Wellington Sevens can always watch the rugby. The wheeze refers, of course, to the fact that the main drawcard for most of those who pack out Westpac Stadium for the event is not the action on the field, but the massive alcohol-fuelled costume party that surrounds it.
The International Rugby Board has a different view. For it, the Wellington Sevens is part of an international series showcasing the slimmed-down version of the game. Now, the IRB has signalled increasing unease about the excessive drinking at the Wellington leg.
Veteran rugby commentator Keith Quinn has revealed that IRB tournament operations manager Beth Coulter gave him the impression that the body was "not impressed with the behaviour". Wellington Sevens general manager Steve Walters has confirmed the IRB drew attention to people "partying too hard" in a written report earlier this year.
There is no talk of Wellington losing the sevens, but the fact the IRB is voicing concerns about the level of drunkenness indicates its tolerance is wearing thin. It no doubt fears it is only a matter of time before there is a repeat of the ugly scenes that marred the 2002 tournament, when drunken fans pelted the Australian side with bottles during the parade of nations.
Anyone who has been to the sevens will have anecdotes about paralytic young - and not so young - men and women coming and going from the stadium. Many preload on alcohol at home or at bars in town. Once there, thousands prefer to drink at the bars on the concourse before taking their seats, many much the worse for wear.
It is no wonder Wellington Hospital's emergency and orthopaedic surgery departments brace for an influx of intoxicated and badly injured patrons whenever the tournament is staged.
Sevens organisers have taken steps to curb the excess, taking a hard line against anyone caught smuggling in alcohol and evicting and preventing entry to those who are clearly intoxicated. However, more needs to be done.
Quinn's suggestion of making the concourse a dry zone from the late afternoon till early evening has merit. He is not proposing stopping the sale of alcohol, merely requiring people to take it back to their seats before they consume it. That would prevent fans from congregating at the bars and reduce the amount of alcohol they are able to knock back.
Before new rules are introduced, however, the ones that are already in place should be properly enforced. It is an offence to serve alcohol to an intoxicated person, and those who do so risk losing their liquor licences. It is something that needs to be policed more judiciously.
Of course, the sevens should be a fun, colourful and festive occasion. Having a few beers or wines to add to the party mood does no harm, and it would be unthinkable to suggest the event should go dry altogether.
However, there is a line between enjoying the odd tipple and drinking to the point of gross intoxication. Those who cross it should be banned from ever attending again.
- © Fairfax NZ News