Offer me an "energy drink" that claims to make anyone who guzzles it fly and the chances are I'll be out of that two-bit gathering faster than you can say abracadabra.

"Red Bull gives you wings," is the motto of the company in question.

Now transpose such wild assertions into the sporting cauldron and you start getting a clearer picture of why the dubious drink-sponsored inaugural Ignite 7 talent search in New Zealand last month should have alarm bells ringing for every parent whose teenage son or daughter harbours ambitions to become a pedigree athlete.

At face value, the event last month appears to be a novel way to identify three female and male players — from pools of 48 each of different gender — to become beneficiaries of everything the All Blacks Sevens and Black Ferns Sevens national development camp will offer next year.


On closer scrutiny, you have to wonder how ludicrous it is to try to comprehend how a one-day tournament can be the culmination of four days of intensive physical testing and screening "to uncover the next generation of sevens superstars".

Females Isla Norman-Bell, Mererangi Paul and Kalyn Takitimu-Cook and males William Warbrick, Chay Fihaki and Jacob Kneepkens made the final cull at the Trusts Arena, Waitakere.

Staggeringly, but not surprisingly, more than 500 applicants, from Invercargill to Kerikeri, put their hand up to take part in a "new high-performance programme".

Four blokes from Hawke's Bay — Tyrone Dodd-Edwards, Lincoln McClutchie, Danny Toala and Liam Udy-Johns — were among the hopefuls.

Many of the 96 contenders are teenagers or those in their formative years so they are, to say the least, impressionable.

It is disconcerting to know budding talent can be enticed to run a gauntlet to fame and glory in the blink of an eye.

Well, okay, the Silver Ferns are at their lowest ebb and could do with a lift so we can cut the netballers some slack here.

What is scary is the number of elite individuals prepared to hop codes in a heartbeat for a sevens flutter.


It hardly matters that some who have honed their skills to an elite level in athletics, basketball, AFL, hockey, netball, rugby league and touch are willing to throw all that away in the hope of succeeding in sevens.

The other night, I saw TV footage which gave glimpses of the Ignite 7 methodology. Some "elite" members of the panel, in reality TV fashion, were trying to impress on viewers how they had been taking a microscopic view of what I assumed to be individuals' kinetic, neurological, musculoskeletal ability and aerobic capacity.

One of them emphasised he wasn't preoccupied with the try scorers or results, for that matter, but more how the athletes responded to stimuli.

Frankly it smacks of a Hunger Games of sorts where sevens is trying to whet the insatiable appetite of not just the players but also an aloof audience.

To put the laboratory Petrie dish culture in perspective, sevens talent in Fiji in my day found its roots from passionate barefoot children tossing around an empty plastic bottle in rural villages.

The reality is rugby has already become an exclusive club, even at secondary school level, so my guess is sevens will somehow become escapism for those who can't handle the jandal.

Propaganda aside, you'll find Ignite 7 takes the notion of reality TV and attempts to blow it up in the face of the sporting society.

So all you mums and dads out there who have dabbled in myriad codes and have passionately gone on to teach your children the basic skills — watch Ignite 7 lure them from under your noses.

Are white coats in sports science laboratories trying to create a template for super athletes who will one day play a made-for-TV hybrid code to whet fickle audiences' appetite? Photo/Photosport
Are white coats in sports science laboratories trying to create a template for super athletes who will one day play a made-for-TV hybrid code to whet fickle audiences' appetite? Photo/Photosport

As alarmist as it sounds, surely people can't be blind to the reality that popular demand dictates our entertainment now more than ever and we are fast losing control.

Never mind the 400 who didn't even make it to the sporting test tube of the Auckland lab — what happens to the 90 who didn't make the six?

Here's hoping they won't be disillusioned with the codes they embraced from childhood to the extent where they won't play it again.

The bigger picture points to shrinking pools of selection for marginalised codes.
It seems sevens, as demanding as it is, is an ideal decoy for the country's No 1 national sport.

As in the Hunger Games, throw away your bibs and sticks girls because sevens gives you the opportunity to emulate the power, strength and athleticism of the boys. We are in the business of manufacturing robot-like athletes who will eventually play a hybrid sport in the year 2057.

For the record, the energy drink sponsor claims to sell its product in 171 countries, to the tune of more than 6.3 billion cans in 31 years of trading.

It champions extreme sport and had hired former East German doping doctor Bernd Pansold to work with the company's sponsored athletes, according to a New York Daily News report in 2013.

In France, Denmark and Norway, the product can only be sold in pharmacies amid reports the drink should not be used after strenuous exercise or mixed with alcohol.

Its billionaire co-founder, Dietrich Mateschitz, of Austria, reportedly stumbled on to the caffeine-rich product in Thailand as an ideal cure for jetlag.

It is worrying to see images of youngsters on the Ignite 7 website sipping the stuff amid assurances from the company that its product is safe.

You see, any inquiry on the secondary schoolboys' rugby saga on "player poaching" is scratching the surface of youth sporting culture.

An independent panel, perhaps comprising Sport NZ, the ministry of sport and food/health representatives, needs to look at what should make budding talent fizz in the country.