End may be nigh for Wellington Sevens

By Chris Rattue

Regan Ware of New Zealand is tackled by Seabelo Senatla of South Africa during the 2016 Wellington Sevens cup final match. Photo / Getty Images
Regan Ware of New Zealand is tackled by Seabelo Senatla of South Africa during the 2016 Wellington Sevens cup final match. Photo / Getty Images

The Wellington Sevens are at crisis point with strong suggestions the city is on the verge of pulling out its half million dollar funding for each tournament.

It is understood that the Wellington City Council is close to scrapping its financial support, which the Herald has been told is $500,000 per year, money which comes from a downtown levy on businesses used to promote the city.

Once a jewel in rugby's crown, the sevens has fallen on hard times. And New Zealand Rugby boss Steve Tew sounded like a man publicly buying time when RadioSport's Martin Devlin questioned him over the claim of a council funding pullout, made by a reliable source.

The news comes as the Wellington City Council considers a new $250,000 sponsorship of Wellington's NPC team, and rumours swirl that the council will quit its long term backing of the Saints national league basketball club. Tew told Devlin: "I'm not sure where your whispers are coming from."

"We are sitting down with the council and stadium and partners doing a very thorough review of the event. It worked very well (this year) although we didn't get enough people there.

"A lot of things we tried to change worked. We think they are worth further exploration before we rush into any decision.

"We have a very longstanding partnership with the Wellington City Council. We aren't rushing into anything and we don't think they are.

"We need to move as quickly as we can and World Rugby also have a say in this. We'll keep you informed, and do it louder than a whisper."

Dammed by a faint retort, perhaps. Among those who believe the event is in serious trouble is the former Wellington city councillor and New Zealand cricketer John Morrison.

Morrison said "creeping wowserism" and rugby's decision to hike the ticket prices during the heyday were major reasons for the imminent loss of what was a great event for the city. He ridiculed curfews, heavy handed security and supposed "family-friendly" policies which had taken the fun out of a social event.

Rugby had also made a mistake, believing in the delights of Kenya versus Canada and filling the New Zealand team with "schoolboys". Businesses who had once made $35,000 a night had seen profits evaporate due to licence restrictions, Morrison said.

"It's like the loudspeakers in the Vietnam jungles - hand over your water," he said. "And I don't know when it became legal to breathalise pedestrians.

"They let the behaviour of 30 people wreck if for 69,000 others. Not everything in the world is family friendly...it was actually a great party.

"It's tragic. They'll tell you otherwise, but I don't think the council actually wants it here anymore."

The WCC appears to be re-jigging its funding of sport. There is a clear inference that it may want to get more closely involved with community rugby, rather than back an annual event which has become a bit of a PR disaster.

The irony is that sevens is enjoying a mini renaissance because of Olympic entry, and the presence of exciting big-name stars such as Akira Ioane and Ardie Savea - albeit briefly - in Gordon Tietjens' national side.

The council's community, sport and recreation chairman Paul Eagle confirmed in December that discussions with the Wellington union about sponsorship of the Lions Mitre 10 Cup team had begun with a decision likely this month. Deputy mayor Justin Lester told Stuff.co.nz while the council still believed in supporting professional franchises, it must recognise grass-roots and semi-professional teams in the community.

However that may not be enough to save the basketball Saints, who it is understood are in danger of losing funding that is significant to them, but costs the council a relatively small amount believed to be around $20,000 a year.

- NZ Herald

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