Monday, February 8, 2010

Rugby World Cup 2011

Okay, so it's a bit off colour - definitely not something you'd see in in New Zealand. When the French Tourism Department tried to attract London rugby fans to Paris, they used an image of a scrum with the front liners pashing each other. The caption read "Enjoy rubgy in the capital of love". Against what you might think, it was a huge hit with the Brits. Fans thought it was funny, French government officials loved the increase in tourism, and it didn't even upset the gay community. A win all the way round really.

I like that they were prepared to take a risk and it paid off.

In September and October 2011 New Zealand will host the Rugby World Cup. It will be be an important event, first for tourism. Sixty-thousand devoted fans are predicted to pour into our shores, viewing the games and, along the way staying in hotels, seeing the sites, drinking beer and generally enjoying themselves.

Another facto that makes these games so important is that rugby is one of those things that defines New Zealand. It's far more than just a game here. It's one of the main cultural institions of the country (speaking as I do from the perspective of an ex-pat). Most kids are encouraged (or made) to play as tots. Traditions such as being served oranges by your parents at half-time during Saturday morning matches have become embedded in the kiwi psyche. It's like tulips or clogs in Holland.

Many people outside New Zealand don't realise that rugby was only made a professional sport in 1995. For most of the time, it was an amature game here, and its grass-roots beginnings have embedded the 'local hero' aspect firmly in the hearts of the country. In fact, professional rugby here is frequently labmasted for forgetting its humble orgins.

What does this mean for the game, the institution, and the people charged with creating an event that is relevant both in the eyes of the world, and the those of the local supporters? A nationwide festival will be held over this period, although few details have yet been made public. It presents us with an amazing opportunity to move beyond loose agglomeration of events and work together combining culture and sport in a way that reflects New Zealand in all its unique and wonderful facets.

Why the French ad works is that it instantly, and humorously, captures the essence of France as both the land of love and a centre for the sport.This is an opportunity for New Zealanders to develop a message that represents our own unique qualities. It's an opportunity to reflect on our values and how we'd like New Zealand to be percieved - and what we want it to be - as the 21st Century comes into full swing.

A challenge will be how the disparate relevant sectors work together to form a synergy that transcends a loose agglomeration of offerings and creates a phenomenon worthy of a country that fostered the Lord of the Rings films, discovery of the atom and the invention of jogging.