Rugby Union’s tearaway teenager of a game has been gathering more attention in the world over the past decade, helped by the fact that teams as diverse as Fiji, South Africa, USA, and Kenya have all won tournament matches.
That’s the key word: Tournament. It’s not just the speed of the sport fans love; it's the fact that it's only played in tournaments that become weekend rugby festivals. It’s like the antithesis of test cricket: every country plays, in only two days, and people actually show up to watch.
For the host city, it offers a massive influx of tourism and dollars, a great multi-ethnic, interracial, festivity, showcasing the cultural diversity sport generally embraces. But mainly it’s a great excuse for a party. Why else would Wellington go near it?
No nation gets as rugby mad as New Zealand (which we’re quite proud of), but the capital city idolises one thing higher: coolness. Wellington is obsessed with being cool. Craft beers, designer coffee, WETA, a mayor who rides a bike, the Fringe Festival; it’s not just the capital, it's the “Cultural Capital”, and woe betide any New Zealander, especially the Prime Minister, who suggests otherwise. Wellingtonians even support soccer more than rugby, just because they can.
The Sevens, as the cool summer party, is something Wellington can laud over Auckland like the childish political brats they are. Not that Auckland cares at the moment, or really any moment, since they’ve got the rugby league Nines… and Lorde… and Kim Dotcom… and the Breakers... and the Big Day Out… and basically the entire television industry.
Unfortunately, the Sevens is also an excuse for every idiot and his boss to get totalled, spew, piss, and sleep where no one should need to. Traffic is locked up, buses are crammed, and someone always randomly gets punched.
Strangely this festival of physical excellence and social ravishing has become New Zealand's own sort of Mardi Gras, and I'm not just talking about the parade
Ask a Cuba St hipster to sit down and describe their nightmare over a watermelon and chilli-infused beer from Garage Project, and a Sevens weekend with vuvuzelas for a soundtrack would be up there. That's a shame really. Both groups love the colour black. Although where there’s Sevens, there’s a fantastic array of costumes: nurses, Borat, cavemen, cosplay and even giant babies. In fact the only depressed people at Westpac Stadium are the Wellington Lions administrators wondering why rugby fans can't bring this kind of cheer in winter (here’s a hint – winter).
Strangely this festival of physical excellence and social ravishing has become New Zealand’s own sort of Mardi Gras, and I’m not just talking about the parade. It's essentially the blow-out day before the enforced detox – with a parade. The celebrating is really important as the carnival period is also about letting go of sins, confessing the darker aspects of your life and moving on.
It’s probably not the mindset you take to watch a sports game, but here’s why the Seven’s isn’t just New Zealand's Mardi Gras, but also the most important cultural event of the year: Waitangi Day.
For those checking calendars, Waitangi Day is always February 6, and the Wellington Sevens falls on the first weekend of the month. The two don’t always line up but are close enough for the tournament to act as a celebration of New Zealand culture that the country is not yet ready to have on its national day.
People tend to be apathetic or angry on Waitangi Day, and with good reason. But it’s still the symbol of New Zealand as a bicultural country, and also one willing/trying/hoping to right its historical misdeeds.
Considering how many different cultures now call Aotearoa home, and how fundamental the New Zealand playing style (itself an expression of multicultural interaction) has been in the popularisation of rugby, a players’ parade wouldn't be out of place.
It’s not that Kiwis don’t want to address Waitangi Day and the grievances the holiday also brings. It’s just they also need some way to celebrate New Zealand as a country, and release the tension our kind of history builds. To this end, a massive multicultural parade, followed by some rugby, and buckets of booze, makes complete sense. What could be more Kiwi than Maori and Pakeha men, arm-in-arm, dressed as nurses, trying to drunkenly chat up a group of cave women... who are also drunken men.
Maybe one day we’ll move the Sevens to Waitangi and make it a four-day event: everyone gathers to remember, showcases their cultures, plays some rugby, then has a massive party. There are worse ways to celebrate. And in the meantime, Wellington will do. If nothing else, the Sevens lets a city that takes itself far too seriously have a chance to let go and cut loose.
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