Wellington organisers want Sevens to 'transform'

KATIE CHAPMAN
Last updated 05:00 06/12/2013

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Sevens fans oblivious to the sport being played on the field need to start paying attention as organisers look to "transform" Wellington's biggest party and make it more Olympic.

The centrepiece of Wellington's sports and events calendar needed to change ahead of the rugby code's debut at the Rio Olympic Games in 2016, general manager Marty Donoghue told a Wellington City Council committee yesterday.

"We're at a point when we need to transform."

That move is being supported by veteran rugby commentator Keith Quinn, who says the party has overtaken the tournament.

After the meeting, Mr Donoghue - who has spent just three weeks in the tournament's top job - said the idea was to still have the party and costumes but to put more emphasis on rugby.

There had been no pressure from the International Rugby Board or the Olympic Committee to change the event, but the Olympics and the sport's increasing recognition internationally provided a good platform to shift the focus, he said.

Increasing the rugby and family zones was a way to enhance the sport aspect, and potentially attract new audiences.

There was also an opportunity to encourage people to angle their costumes towards countries, he said.

That did not have to mean just a country's colours, but also its characters.

"For New Zealand, there could be a lot of Fred Daggs. Take the UK, there could be a lot of Prince Williams or Nigella Lawsons."

The idea was to "leverage off" the party atmosphere.

"We always knew we had to look at ensuring the spectacle on the field was the prime reason people went."

The family and rugby zones were both used at this year's tournament, and tickets for the 2014 event have been the first in years not to sell out within minutes, with about 3000 still available yesterday.

Mr Donoghue said that was not a concern and he was confident of a sellout.

The move to focus on sport was backed by Quinn, who ranked the Hong Kong and Dubai events ahead of Wellington's because they focused more on the rugby.

"The Wellington Sevens is very good, but it's at its best on a sunny day on the second afternoon, when the crowd finally does focus in on the last stage of the semifinals and the various finals . . . Sometimes I have felt that the party has distracted the crowd from the event, the sports event."

One way to get more people involved was to promote the players from the visiting teams, many of whom were superb athletes.

"We've got to help people identify who the players are, what their names are."

Wellington Mayor Celia Wade-Brown agreed there was scope to increase the focus on sport, especially with it debuting at the Olympics.

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"We need to take the game seriously, as well as the dress-up . . . it deserves to be taken seriously."

However, it would "certainly still be a fun dress-up party", she said.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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