More cheers, less booze main aim of sevens boss

BEN HEATHER AND TALIA SHADWELL
Last updated 05:00 11/02/2014
Marty Donoghue
Supplied
SEVENS HEAD: Marty Donoghue

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The boss of the Wellington Sevens has vowed the party will go on, and has played down concerns about drunken disorder.

Police plan to meet Westpac Stadium and sevens chiefs to discuss concerns about intoxication at this year's tournament.

It is possible the matter could be referred to the Alcohol Regulatory and Licensing Authority, which has the power to suspend or cancel the stadium's liquor licence.

Police say more needs to be done to reduce drunken behaviour, and stadium bosses indicate this could include reducing the limit of four drinks per customer per purchase to two drinks.

But organisers insist crowds were better behaved than last year, and Wellington Sevens general manager Marty Donoghue said the reason more people were ejected from the stadium was because of a lower tolerance threshold.

"We are constantly searching for the right balance, and we still do need to get that right," he said.

"But why would you take the fun element out of something?"

Ambulance crews treated fewer people for intoxication, and less alcohol was sold at the stadium, he said.

Westpac Stadium chief executive Shane Harmon said intoxication was more rigorously monitored this year, as law changes put stricter obligations on hosts. Organisers had lowered their tolerance to reflect this change, but it was still being tested.

"We just don't know yet, because the law is so new."

He said it was time to start treating the game with "more respect". "I think we need more focus on the sport, rather than the party aspect."

On Friday night, 160 people were ejected from Westpac Stadium, while another 110 were kicked out on Saturday. Only 47 in total were ejected last year.

One couple ejected from the stadium have accused security staff of over-reacting, and say they will not return to the event.

Sam Vivian-Greer, of Wairarapa, and his partner met at the sevens last year and returned to celebrate their first anniversary.

They drank four ciders each over three hours, he said. They were hugging in the stands, and say the way they were leaning attracted security attention.

He said they tried to prove their sobriety but were escorted out anyway. They questioned why staff did not use breathalysers or alcohol-impairment tests.

"Their arbitrary ruling on excessive consumption left many patrons at the mercy of their often less-than-professional whims.

"One might just hope, though, that the police intend to be a little fairer in their distinction between intoxicated idiots and sports fans sober enough to drive home."

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Mr Harmon understood the frustration of patrons who felt they were unfairly removed, but he defended stadium staff.

"There is a range of traits that our staff are looking for in identifying intoxication, and it's fair to say that we were a lot more stringent this year compared to other years, and I think that's evident in the numbers evicted."

Police national headquarters said yesterday that ejections were a matter for stadium security, not for police.

Meanwhile, Auckland Nines organisers have wasted no time in declaring a strict alcohol policy at their inaugural rugby league tournament this weekend.

Managing director David Higgins said drinks would be no more than 4 per cent alcohol, and served only in plastic glasses.

He expected there would be a bigger focus on sport than partying.

"We don't want to develop a booze culture at the event. From the beginning it will be very hard for people to use the nines to get intoxicated."

- The Dominion Post

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