Editorial: Time for a sobering debate on the sevens

How can we rein in the drinking culture?

Last updated 05:00 11/02/2014

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OPINION: The sevens has always been more of a party than a sports event. There have been years of drunkenness and crass behaviour both at the stadium and on the streets. Many people have winked at this. Instead they've talked about the fun and the colour, the sense of carnival and general hilarity.

Now the tide has turned and there is a sense that the party is out of control. This year's costume winner, Aucklander Steve Skidmore, says: "This place is an absolute zoo. I'm not coming back." It's a damning remark from someone committed to the creative and carnival side of the sevens.

Police have condemned the drunkenness this year and are looking for much greater control of the drinking. They are right to do so. This doesn't mean that drunken stupidity and offensiveness have suddenly broken out at the sevens. That goes on every year.

This year police flexed their muscles and cracked down. The result is that almost five times as many were thrown out of the stadium this year as last year. "Too many people were intoxicated at the stadium," Inspector John Spence says. The same could have been said every other year.

Mr Spence takes aim at the supply of alcohol inside the stadium, and says the event could be referred to the Alcohol Regulatory and Licensing Authority, which can suspend or cancel licences. That seems like a good idea. It is an offence to serve drunken patrons. It is fair to point out that spotting a drunken patron is not always easy, because some people hold their liquor better than others. On the other hand, drunkenness is often obvious and it seems likely that clearly drunken customers were served during the sevens.

The limit of four drinks a customer does not seem to have had much effect, and police are floating the idea of a two-drinks maximum. Again, it is worth trying. What is needed is a change of culture at the sevens. This won't be easy. Some thought that when the sevens became an Olympic sport, there would be more attention to the games and less emphasis on drunken revelry. This was a forlorn hope. Many or perhaps most of the crowd are there for the party first and the sevens second. Few in authority tried to persuade them otherwise.

Wellington has tended to treat the sevens as a sign of the capital's funkiness. Wellington flattered itself that it showed it was a carnival city and not just a hive of bureaucrats. The result, too often, has been to ignore crime and crassness that wouldn't normally be tolerated.

The change of attitude by police is part of a general hardening of attitude against binge drinking. The new liquor laws are specifically designed to combat it, and the sevens is one of the most blatant symbols of that culture.

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The question now is: what specific steps are now needed to put some limits to drunken stupidity at the sevens? Police are leading the way. Everyone else involved in this event - the stadium management, the liquor contractors at the stadium, the city council and the wider hospitality business in Wellington - needs to follow.

- The Dominion Post

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