Wed, Feb 08, 2012 - Page 19 News List

Wellington Sevens looking to the Olympics: organizer


Supporters pose during the rugby Sevens tournament in Wellington, New Zealand, on Friday.

Photo: AFP

Captain America went into a convenience store to grab a pie, while two Caped Crusaders sprinted through the downtown streets toward the Wellington Regional Stadium in New Zealand.

Milk cartons mixed with Smurfs, while the Flintstones drank beer with several women dressed as “Black Swan” ballerinas as the Wellington leg of the International Rugby Board’s Sevens circuit underlined its reputation as the party tournament.

The tournament, which completed its 13th year over the weekend, has developed into a 48-hour party in New Zealand’s capital.

Tickets for the event are more sought after than any other in the rugby mad country — the initial tranche of 8,000 selling out in about three minutes when they went on sale, four months before the tournament began.

The tradition of dressing up in costume started at the inaugural tournament, general manager Steve Walters said, though at the time organizers just thought it was an interesting aside.

“The first year, we thought, let’s just get it going,” he said. “We noticed that quite a few people came dressed up that first year. So let’s play on that. It’s a summer event and people get into it.”

“The second year we focused on the fans and people really embraced it. By 2002, we were selling out. They really embraced the whole concept of a summer event, based on rugby and [having a] great time with friends and family,” Walters said. “Now the global reputation of this tournament is that we want to foster a great time. It’s certainly a festival of rugby.”

While the focus was on the festival surrounding the rugby, Walters said the introduction of rugby Sevens into the 2016 Olympics would change their marketing focus from next year.

The festival atmosphere was still an important part of the branding of the tournament, he said, but next year they would probably bring their focus back to what was happening on the field.

“I think lately there has been press around the Wellington tournament being just about the party, but I’ve never believed that,” Walters said. “You couldn’t have the party or festival without the rugby. You wouldn’t want people sitting there for 10 hours and not enjoying themselves, watching game after game and not enjoying it.”

“It’s a consensual relationship,” he said.

Walters said he suspected more top-line 15s players, like All Blacks winger Hosea Gear, who won a gold medal in Sevens at the 2010 Delhi Commonwealth Games and played in the Wellington tournament, would make themselves available for Olympic campaigns.

“What we’re doing now is trying to refocus back on the international, world class quality of the rugby,” he said. “The [festival] reputation is there. That’s great for us. The popularity, the global reputation [is there], but people aren’t going to turn up if there is no rugby on.”

“Naturally, given the hype going into the Olympics and with the players going into it, then people will embrace that and we will promote it,” he said.

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