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March 21, 2011 | by  | in Features | [ssba]

440,000 seats in a Stadium of Four Million

When the New Zealand Government and Rugby Union lodged a bid to host the Rugby World Cup (RWC) in 2005, they promoted the idea that New Zealand would provide a ‘Stadium of Four Million’.

While other delegates offered an oval ball and some fields, the kiwis proudly nudged forward the services and attention of the entire New Zealand population. Here are the women, men and their baches, the NZRU might have said in elaboration. Here are their Tip Tops and beach towels, their barbeques and hangi, their jandals and pavlova. Here are New Zealanders, with their endearing habit of making every observation a question, as though the weather is nice only upon agreement in this part of the world. Here is your Stadium of Four Million—come over and play some footie, and we might even make you a cuppa after the match.

Seven years and one successful Cup bid later, the Wellington City Council (WCC) is busy in preparations for their role in laying down the welcome mat for the influx of international visitors who will fill our streets in September and October. Wellington is to host five RWC pool matches as well as two quarter finals. The economic gain for the region is expected to reach $45m, with visitor numbers over the period likely to exceed 40,000. Taking into account the RWC’s significance for both Wellington and New Zealand, it is unsurprising that the Council has undergone a significant amount of preparation to ensure that the capital city is a “worthy guardian of Rugby’s jewel in the Crown”,
as was one of New Zealand’s promises to the IRB
in 2005.

Something for Everyone

Although non-rugby fans may lack enthusiasm for the RWC, local Councillors are quick to highlight how the Rugby World Cup will benefit diverse sections of the community. Celia Wade-Brown, Mayor of Wellington, says that the Council aims to provide ‘something for everyone’ and ‘ensure that all Wellingtonians have the chance to get involved’ in the RWC. A broad range of events are scheduled for the RWC time which will cater for both post-match philosophising and those who appreciate the RWC as an opportunity for an extended community shindig. As Andy Foster, Wellington City Councillor and Transport Portfolio leader observes, the RWC can be characterised as ‘a big party for about six weeks’.

John Morrison is a Wellington City Councillor and leads the Sports and Events portfolio as well as the RWC portfolio established in the lead-up to the event. Morrison believes that “sometimes people can get a little bit narrow in the sense that ‘oh, well I’m not that interested in rugby’ or ‘I’m not really a rugby person’. Well, it’s not really about the rugby in terms of looking at it from a city point of view; it’s about hosting the biggest event we’ve had.”

Morrison says that many people may travel to Wellington to experience the RWC atmosphere without attending rugby games. He uses the example of the 2005 Lions rugby tour where “we had about 25,000 English in town for that week of the test match, and 10,000 of them didn’t have a ticket to the game”. For those who do attend the game, Morrison points out that “when you boil it down, the rugby match goes for about 80 minutes and there’s an awful lot of the rest of the week still to fill in.”

The RWC festivities will feature a major carnivale-styled event which will “showcase the best of Wellington’s art and culture communities” according to Wade-Brown. Council preparations for the RWC involve providing funding for artistic projects such as the Wharewaka on the waterfront and Weta Workshop statue at the centre of the Rugby World Cup village. There are also the less quantifiable benefits of international exposure for Wellington artists and musicians during the RWC period, which may encourage future investment and development. The World of Wearable arts is on during the RWC and Foster notes that “no doubt there will be Rugby World Cup-type themes” in this event also.

For Wellingtonians who do enjoy playing rugby, or sideline analysis of the sport, there are RWC public training sessions as well as the opportunity to volunteer during the Cup. This means that Porirua Park locals can observe the best rugby players that Wales, Fiji and Canada have to offer playing at their home ground. Those close to Newtown Park can watch the USA and France train while Hutt Recreation ground will host Tonga. Players from South Africa, Australia and New Zealand will train at Rugby League Park.
Wade-Brown says that the volunteer response for the RWC has been ‘overwhelming’ with volunteer positions already oversubscribed. Foster says that there has been enthusiasm for helping out at the event from a ‘cross-section of the community’, estimating volunteer numbers at around 7000.

The wide level of community participation and interest in the Rugby World Cup may be seen to reflect a changing and diversifying rugby audience in New Zealand. Morrison observes that “sometimes rugby can be tagged as a male macho sport, but we’re not pitching it that way at all”. He believes events like the Sevens and the impact of the Westpac Stadium have “really bred a whole new type of audience” contrasting the rugby regulars of 20 years ago (“men in grey garbadine raincoats smoking roll your own Captains”) with the Sevens where “if you’re not in fancy dress, you’re viewed as somewhat peculiar”. Morrison thinks that the rugby-watching demographic has become younger and more female. While there are still devoted fans in the rugby crowd who watch each line-out with a chess player’s seriousness, there are also those who come along to have fun.

New Zealanders are also playing a wider range of sports than previously, meaning that to stay watchable rugby can no longer rely soley on an audience of rugby players and ex-rugby players. This description would have included most of the male adult population in the 1950s and 1960s when, as Morrison observes, it “was almost seen as automatic that you all went to the rugby and you played rugby”. Morrison uses his time at New Plymouth Boys’ High as an example, where it was compulsory to play rugby “unless you could come up with some marvellous medical reason, and it had to be a bloody good one.”

Welcoming the World to Whanganui-a-Tara

Wellington City Council preparations for the Cup have been extensive. One of the biggest logistical challenges in hosting the RWC has been making sure that there is sufficient accommodation to house the tens of thousands of tourists who will be visiting. Jo Coughlan, Wellington City Councillor and Economic Portfolio leader says that accommodation “has been a major part of our planning since we bid for hosting rights”. Coughlan says campervans are among the “creative solutions” to the accommodation issue that have been developed by collaboration between Council, Positively Wellington Tourism and accommodation providers. During the RWC campervans will be able to park not only at holiday park sites but at rugby club grounds, marae, the Trentham Racecourse and a designated area on the waterfront. A number of cruise ships are to be berthed in Wellington Harbour, providing another less conventional form of lodging for visitors to the capital during the RWC.

Foster says that while there are currently projects underway which will be beneficial for the smooth management of the Cup, these projects will also provide ongoing advantages to the Wellington community and were mostly planned and budgeted separate to the RWC. He uses initiatives such as the upgrade of Waterloo Quay providing cycling and walking access and the Cuba St/Manners Mall development as examples. Although there is not much development which is specifically orientated towards the RWC, projects are “looked at through an RWC filter” as Wade-Brown puts it, bringing forward or delaying construction to ensure that public works will be at minimum levels during the Cup period.

Foster notes that the “legacy [of the RWC] is not just the infrastructure, the legacy is also that people say ‘the Rugby World Cup in New Zealand was great’”. Coughlan also highlights the importance of the RWC in terms of tourism and the lift it will bring for local business. Wellington has already been named the ‘coolest little capital in the world’ by Lonely Planet Best in Travel and Coughlan believes that a successfully hosted RWC would further enhance the city’s international reputation, increasing Wellington’s chances of hosting future events.
Coughlan says that many businesses will run special events and generally go “the extra mile” during the RWC. She uses the Capital Host Charter, established by the Wellington hospitality industry, as an example. This peer-reviewed initiative rates hospitality venues on a range of factors with the overarching goal of cultivating venues with good hosts and safe environments. According to Coughlan “bar owners are already talking to their staff about learning extra useful information such as Te Papa’s opening hours”.

Of all the teams to stay in Wellington, the South African team will be here for the longest at 19 days – “Wellington is really their home”, notes Morrison, for most of the RWC. He says that many venues will recognise this in the way they are presented, giving their premises a “very South African flavour” to encourage visitors to feel like they have a “home pub”. The Council is also looking at having a range of outdoor activities on offer suchs as kayaking, fishing and hunting which Morrsion hopes will be appreciated by Wellington’s South African visitors.

May the Best Team Win

Although Wade-Brown says that she is not a “die-hard fan” of rugby she does enjoy catching the occasional game. Wade-Brown predicts that Wales, NZ, Tonga and France will be in the top four of the competition. Of teams other than New Zealand, Wade-Brown hopes to see Tonga’s “very talented players from a small nation” progress in the Cup. Foster says although the “round ball game” is probably his preferred sport he watches rugby. He hopes “teams that play the best rugby will be the ones that progress” although he would support England as his birth nation, second to New Zealand. Morrison played senior club rugby but switched his focus to cricket in his early twenties, representing New Zealand between 1973 and 1983.
As well as offering some great rugby viewing, the RWC has the potential to bring lasting benefits to Wellington with the boost it will provide for tourism and our local economy. Regardless of how results fall when rugby fans converge on the windy city later this year, the RWC provides a unique opportunity for Wellingtonians to step forward and, like a player under floodlights, cast an image that extends further than ourselves.


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Comments (4)

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  1. Electrum Stardust says:

    [S]omewhere in Libya right now, a janitor’s working the night shift at Libyan Intelligence headquarters. He’s going about doing his job… “

  2. Electrum Stardust says:

    ” … because he has no idea that in about an hour he’s going to die in a massive explosion. He’s just going about his job, because he has no idea that about an hour ago I gave an order to have him killed. You’ve just seen me do the least presidential thing I do. “

  3. Electrum Stardust says:

    ” People don’t drink the sand ’cause they’re thirsty. They drink the sand ’cause they don’t know the difference. “

  4. smackdown says:

    jed barlett’s war with qumar

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