Sevens made its booze bed, now lies in it

Last updated 12:30 11/02/2014
DARK SIDE: The Sevens wasn't a blast for everyone.

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In news as earth-shattering as learning that Pope Francis regularly attends Catholic mass, we learn that significant quantities of alcohol were imbibed at the Wellington Sevens over the weekend.

The place, according to the best costume winner, was a "zoo". 

Police have tersely noted that "too many people were intoxicated at the stadium".

Over the tournament's two days, 37 people were arrested and a further 270 were ejected from the stadium, thus ensuring the proud Kiwi hallmarks of moderation and respect are further mythologised alongside Trabants, $1 pies and landlines, as nostalgic remnants of a bygone era.

Truth be told, it seems rather pointless to complain about the level of drunkenness at the Wellington Sevens. It has become what it has chosen to promote itself as: A party.

The utopic ideal would be for the sevens to maintain widespread appeal while neutralising debauchery, but what happens when that debauchery is the appeal?

The Wellington Sevens is a festival, not a sporting tournament.

Any drastic solution to the "problem" of over-intoxication would kill both the goose, and the $15 million-plus golden egg.

A report conducted in 2013 investigated the nature of alcohol promotion and consumption at New Zealand sporting events.

Specifically regarding the sevens, it made the observation that "promotion-driven alcohol consumption was observed to be synonymous with the culture of the event, and the sporting contest was secondary to the fan experience for the majority of the fans".

Without wishing to appear ungenerous to the sport of rugby sevens, I doubt whether many tournaments live long in the memory of anybody who is not a die-hard fan. The mainstream appeal of Wellington's premier sporting event is not the sport, but the atmosphere.

Sevens faces a similar predicament to Twenty20 cricket in that it is a cheap, exciting, disposable entertainment.

Where Twenty20 has succeeded is in basing its major tournaments in densely-populated countries with a nigh-religious enthusiasm with cricket. '

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Rugby has always been an important facet of New Zealand's culture, but a saturation of the market - induced by a 10-month rugby season - means that the sevens has chosen to appeal to different senses: saturnalian, rather than sporting.

Is this really such a terrible thing?

The sevens is one of the best-executed events New Zealand has to offer. Yes, it is fundamentally based on booze, but this is hardly a secret.

Yet even now the aftermath of the event seems to tap into some long-dormant, militantly puritanical streak in our collective consciousness.

We are beating ourselves over the head with solid gold paddles of our own smelting.

The Wellington Sevens is simply lying in the bed it has made for itself. Sport and alcohol have always mixed. What separates this event is that the alcohol trumps the sport.

This is the way it is because the sevens is promoted as such. Dulling the atmosphere at this excellent event would be akin to cutting off the face to preserve the nose.

If you're going to put your cake in a tin, well, expect the tin to get dirty. 

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