GARETH DUNCAN writes the success of the PE Sevens over the next four years will depend on the spectacle showcased this weekend.
I arrive at the Port Elizabeth airport on Tuesday afternoon and see sevens memorabilia posted on every banner, wall and sliding door possible. Driving in the streets, the light posts are decorated with sevens posters while most shops proudly advertise the event in-store or on their windows. Speaking to the locals, there is excitement around town and apart from the complaints of day one being scheduled on a work day (Friday), ‘rugby’s biggest party’ is expected to be a ‘major jol‘ this weekend. That is, after all, what makes sevens rugby so special – the atmosphere and festivities on and off the field.
The PE Sevens: ‘Feel it. It is coming’.
Cheeky Watson, president of the home union the EP Kings, promised the public to turn the South African Sevens World Series leg into a successful tournament at the official hosting rights announcement in Cape Town last April. And these initial signs show that the necessary efforts are being made to live up to that expectation. Boasting the world-class Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium, entertainment facilities, the beach and nightlife, you can only imagine a spectacular 48 hours in the Friendly City.
However, while there are indications that the PE Sevens is set to be a hit, there remain challenges that need to be acknowledged and achieved.
Despite the hype, the reality is that South Africa is a 15s nation that lacks a sevens culture. We have fans that only have the patience for 80 minutes of rugby, but PE needs to show that it is possible to be entertained throughout a two-day tournament. They have an opportunity to do so this weekend, and if they do an effective job – South Africa will embrace this event, like it should.
On that note, service delivery is vital. Especially during the festive season, customer service always seems to be poor nationwide – but the tournament management in charge need to ensure that this is their priority. Reputations are at stake and first impressions last – not only for locals, but also for the influx of foreign sevens lovers. A nice idea that has been implemented is the non-alcoholic family stand that accommodates fans of all ages.
Don’t expect all 48 500 seats to be filled this year. Only 11 000 and 23 000 tickets were pre-sold for Friday and Saturday respectively by Wednesday night. But with the Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium hosting the following three South African legs, to draw in a full house crowd one day is possible.
The EP Kings, Nelson Mandela Bay municipality and tournament officials need to understand that it will require an outstanding job not only to deliver on Watson’s promise, but to live up to the potential PE offers. For a region that currently has no Currie Cup Premier Division or Super Rugby team, there is hunger for top-class rugby. We’ve seen this with record crowds attending the British & Irish Lions tour fixture in 2009, the Currie Cup promotion-relegation in 2010 and this year’s All Blacks Tri-Nations Test. The 2012 Rugby Championship will see the England travel to PE and that game is already considered a sell-out.
This weekend’s event should be embraced the same way. A new culture can be born if the job is done correctly.
The PE Sevens: ‘Feel it. It is here.’