FLICKS. RIFFS. AND OTHER BITS.

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WELLINGTON SEVENS. GAME OVER?

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For two days you would shout, sing and drink yourself silly with Batman, Supergirl, Olga the Viking, Paul the ballerina, Spiderman, the Crayola Crayons, and the Doctors from South Auckland, while Austin Powers would prance around the field and the crowd would sing that rather tired song from the Exponents.

For two days the city of Wellington would get their party on and celebrate like it was Fat Tuesday Mardi Gras in New Orleans.

For two days.. it was the biggest party and sporting event in New Zealand.

And on the odd occassion – you’d watch a game of rugby.

I’ve been to a few Sevens over the years and enjoyed the rugby as well the party atmosphere – not just at the Stadium, but the whole city of Wellington.

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I remember the 2003 Sevens. My parents loved watching the Sevens on TV and Niue Island was playing – so I bought them tickets to go that year, but by mistake got them tickets in the Party Zone. (I already had season seats at the time in sunny Aisle 20). As I watched the games I could see down at the Party Zone was going wild. Thundersticks were the thing that year so as I walked down to Aisle 29 – I saw my parents in the middle of a raging thunderstick party. Scantily clad beach towel girls, men in ballerina outfits and jandals, and amongst all this carnage was Dad, the odd man out.

As a church minister, he would’ve fitted right in if he wore his real work clothes of long white cloak, purple sash and the white ministers collar. I saw him taking his pen out from his plaid short sleeve shirt pocket,and filling out the scoresheet on the sevens programme he specially took out of the Dominion post, trying to watch the game. Next to him, two nurses were jumping up and down in front of him and hitting him relentlessly with a thunderstick, trying to get a laugh out of him.

Mum? She was busy jumping up and down laughing and singing- holding two thundersticks and hitting the drunken Tarzan and Jane in front of her seat.

I told them to take my seats at Aisle 20. They quickly obliged.

That was the last time I got them Sevens tickets.

Probably my favourite Rugby Sevens memory was in 2009 when Niue played in the tournament – and when the whole stadium were all chanting and singing “Niue! Niue! Niue! …”to the tune of the soccer anthem “Ole! Ole! Ole!“. As the Niuean team walked around the field after their last game, performing the traditional Niuean war dance – you could hear the whole stadium roar and chant the country of my motherland. That was magic.

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For those two February days and the next ten years adult Kiwis from all over New Zealand would congregate to Wellington and had full license to let their hair down. It was the best sports event and party in town.

Sure the Rugby was the drawcard but the main game was the party inside Westpac Stadium and the whole city going off because of it. It was electric. In 2011, I didn’t even go to the stadium – I watched the sevens at a friends flat, then hit the town to see the carnage –  but we still got into the party atmosphere as this video I made of the night shows.

Hit it INXS…

But then the party got pear-shaped. It was probably the year when those drunken middle-aged group of men wore those disgusting green Borat costumes revealing way too much. When the girls wore next to nothing and drank so much they looked like they were about to trip, fall and roll down the aisle stairs.

I can imagine World Rugby saw all of this on the tv screen, and thought enough is enough and gave word. To them this wasn’t rugby at all because no one seemed to be watching it. It would’ve looked like a drunken and debauched Roman orgy. The party had got way out of hand.

Something had to give, and so the whistle blew on the party and the fun police started playing. To make it more about the rugby and to make it a family event.

But once that party went, no-one came back. Since then it’s been quite sad to see the Sevens reduced to nothing every year. You can blame the fun police, the new regulations, the horrendous prices, the League Nines in Auckland and the lack of marketing and promotion (as an advertising creative I thought the promotion of the event in last few years was pretty lame).

And who came up with the weird name “Fun Police?”  Wouldn’t they be like…fun to be with? I keep thinking of the movie Police Academy, whenever the media would mention that term. Cue Steve Guttenberg , Hightower and Michael Winslow.

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And so it was, that I went along with my good friend Latu and his friends this year to the Sevens (they had an extra ticket – thanks Tina).

I was also kind of curious to see what it was like now after the heady days of yesterday.  It was the first time I’ve been there since 2010. I knew it would be quiet but didn’t realise how dire it’s become until we got to our seats…

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Looking out at all those empty yellow seats, it was quite depressing.

I’m sure the Sky TV producer would’ve been tempted to create a special effect and CGI a crowd in.

I noticed they had local DJs and a band from Christchurch playing in-between games this year, but man –  it was dead. Sure there were more kids and families but people were leaving before the two main games started (Samoa v France and NZ v USA). By the last game, it was like watching a club rugby game – with even less people.

God, Austin Powers was still there – which actually made it all the more worse .

The only good thing was that there were no long queues to get a Beer and a Burger.

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Oh dear. But it’s still pretty funny. (Ref: Edgeline Photography)

And so everyone and their dog have been having their bit on social media about the Sevens. I point to Rugby commentator ‘Sumo’ Scotty Stevenson as he summed up my feelings pretty well on his twitter page :

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And it definitely was sad – talking to the people who were at the stadium and remembering those days and actually made the effort to go this year to dress up. I chatted to some retailers, the bartenders and the taxi driver before I got to the Stadium – and they all talk of those glory days and try to pinpoint why its all gone to custard.

There wasn’t even a sevens special programme in the Dom Post, which Dad was trying to find so who could see the draw and find out who was playing…but there wasn’t one. He was quite disappointed.

 Martin Snedden’s remarks on the Dominion Post has some truth in it. Maybe the lifespan of the Wellington sevens has reached its course. But the Hong Kong tournament is still going strong – for more than 20 years. How come we can’t manage to do that here?

The Dominion Post article by Ben Strang was trying to offer some hope that we can save this tournament. Personally the writing was on the wall from 2013.

Phil Gifford’s article in the Sunday Star Times thinks that name players are what’s needed – but they did that last year bringing Ardie Savea and Sonny Bill Williams, and still no-one showed up.

Maybe we really can’t be bothered with Sevens after the party went. Weary of all the drink. the booze. The vile Borat costumes. Bored of that old Exponents song. Bored of Austin Powers (god, I was bored of him in 2001). Bothered about the party atmosphere leaving when the new liquor regulations took hold. Maybe the sevens game is just old hat now.

Or, as a good friend who works in advertising told me – and he makes a good point, it’s just a symptom of New Zealanders general decline of following live sport and sports teams over the years;

A shame about the Sevens but while it’s a high profile case study it is symptomatic of the general decline of live attendance of rugby in NZ. Many and complex issues – crap stadiums and service, crap competitions, lack of passion for teams, the misguided idea that sport is entertainment, etc etc Rugby is especially guilty of constantly tinkering with competition structures and the laws of the game as it desperately tries to find a product with mass appeal. Problem rugby’s got is that it starts from the premise of ‘what will generate the most money in the next TV deal’ and then tries to sell that to the public rather than the other way round…”

Rugby in New Zealand outside of the All Black tests doesn’t generate big crowds on a consistent basis. The ITM Cup barely gets a decent club rugby crowd at best in the main cities and only in the regional areas. In recent years early Super Rugby games in New Zealand find it hard to attract the big crowds. Yes we don’t have the massive population –  but we always seem to fill out the local All Black tests, and we all line up for rugby tickets if a New Zealand Super Rugby team make playoffs and get a home semi final or Final (like the Hurricanes run to the Super Rugby Final last year). Numbers are up on Hurricane membership for this year which is great – wonder what it would’ve been had we not made the finals.

Even the Auckland League Nines this year didn’t manage to get the crowds it wanted and is moving on next year to another location. (you could argue that the One Love Concert and Guns n’ Roses that same day took a piece of that action).

So in that context – maybe the Sevens was always doomed to fizzle out. Maybe the rugby gods knew we weren’t gonna turn up to this event. More so when the party left dodge. So it will be interesting what World Rugby and NZ Rugby will do now with Wellington – which still has another two years on the event.

Maybe it’s time for the likes of Dunedin with its covered stadium, Hamilton and Tauranga to have their shot.

Even Fiji have put their hands up – and why not? They’re the Olympic Gold Medallists.

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Sevens 2017 (Aisle 14)

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A few days later at Guns n’ Roses (Aisle 13)

So if Wellington does lose the Sevens sooner rather than later, so be it. It was a great event while it lasted.

Funny… a few days later I went to see Guns n’ Roses (which is my next blog entry) in the same stadium in the next aisle a few days after the Sevens. There were over 38,000 people there and it was pouring with rain. Maybe we should’ve had the Gunners play at the Sevens?

Now that would’ve been some party.

Just like it was-back when the Wellington Sevens rocked…

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This entry was posted on February 10, 2017 by .
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