OPINION: The Boxing Day races at Awapuni this year were a huge success, and the positive atmosphere enjoyed by the thousands who attended was no accident.
The Manawatu Racing Club has made a concerted effort to crack down on alcohol-fuelled misbehaviour and reshape the event as one everyone can enjoy.
In 2007, the club controversially banned people bringing their own alcohol to the races. In reality, it had little choice. Manawatu Racing Club general manager David Jewell said at the time that they simply couldn't control all the people at the course, and the club risked being prosecuted by police if the drunkenness continued.
Some saw the BYO ban as a ploy to make more money over the bar; others suggested political correctness was spoiling everyone's fun.
One unhappy punter at the Boxing Day races in 2007 told the Manawatu Standard: "It's an event, you get drunk, it's just what happens."
Another lamented that bringing booze to the track was a "tradition" for many people.
Anyone who was at Awapuni on Thursday - six years later - would surely agree that a new tradition is taking root. The vibe at the course wasn't muted or dull, far from it.
The crowd was bustling with people of all ages enjoying a drink and a flutter, but without the cloud of aggression and unpredictability that comes with hundreds of people drunk out of their skulls.
The only arrest came when a heavily intoxicated young man tried to get into the course but was intercepted by security.
The culture change at Manawatu Racing Club during the past six years demonstrates that events - both public and private - don't have to be drunken free-for-alls to be successful. The club took an unpopular stand in 2007, and it was a brave step to make.
What is clear now is that that decision has been vindicated. The Boxing Day races at Awapuni is a better event. There will still be issues in future, as there always are with any large gathering of people, but the Manawatu Racing Club has taken a positive step forward that can only see more people coming through the gates in the long term.
And in taking that step, it has shown the public which direction we should all be heading.
One more thing
Speaking of good public events, Palmerston North's New Year's Eve Concert in The Square should be a great night out.
If you don't have any plans yet, put together a picnic, round up the family and wander along. There'll be entertainment from 5pm.
- Manawatu Standard
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