The Real Debacle In The Rugby World Cup Opening Night Madness

Party Central.

The joke on Friday (amongst many) was that it was my 30th birthday and to celebrate I’d organised Dave Dobbyn and the Finn Brothers to do a concert, the biggest fireworks display in New Zealand history and invited 50,000 friends along to the party. That and the rugby game. Luckily I didn’t actually try and organise more than “let’s meet downtown” to a couple of mates because as we know, it was a shambles. And so the blame game has begun and with the Government using “emergency powers” legislation to take control off Mayor Len Brown and the Auckland City Council, it’s clear they are blaming him.

Two articles about the opening night from opposing sides of the aisle, one from National’s Nikki Kaye and the other from Labour’s Jacinda Ardern, both struck a nice balance. Kaye, to her credit, didn’t dig the boot into Brown, prefering to focus on the economic positives of the Cup and a desire to move forward. Ardern was more critical and pointed out something the hordes of Len Brown critics have conveniently forgotten: Both Murray McCully and John Key have been championing Queen’s Wharf as “Party Central” for a good couple of years. For two years, 1.4 million Aucklanders were told by McCully and Key ad nauseum, that if you weren’t at the game, Queen’s Wharf, capacity 12,000, was where to be.

Ardern also writes something which is so obvious, it’s startling it has barely been mentioned: that Queen’s Wharf has only one entry / exit point; it is all one way. It was also only in the few days before the opening night that someone mentioned publicly, “by the way, Party Central can only take 12,000.” The post-mortems have said organisers were surprised so many turned up, but why? I haven’t heard anybody explain that for 20 years, 200,000 Aucklanders have turned up for free events like Symphony Under The Stars and Christmas In The Park in the Domain. That for me is the essential point in the Queen’s Wharf / Party Central debacle: it was not unprecedented for 200,000 to show up, not at all. And to break the numbers down to something we can fathom, imagine 200 people turning up to a party with room for only 12. That is the almighty stuff-up, the glory of the perfectly executed opening ceremony the triumph.

As for suggestions that Party Central encompassed an area much larger than just Queen’s Wharf, that’s ill-conceived nonsense. It’s a bit like a treasure hunt where you know all the gold is in one place and it’s just the silver and bronze everywhere else. Of course everyone was going to try for Queen’s Wharf first – the three greatest songwriters in New Zealand history do, funnily enough, have quite a few fans.

So that’s what we got wrong, not just those on the left, not just those on the right. Ardern suggests how to fix the transport issues long-term (something National seem to be in denial over) and Kaye rightly lets non-Aucklanders know that despite it all, the city is not a “joke” nor an “embarrassment” as one idiot from Christchurch wrote to Stuff.co.nz saying. In fact, Auckland in that week leading up to the World Cup had never looked better. The early Spring weather, the sensational Britomart redevelopment, dodgy-old Fort Street’s complete 180 degree turn from red-light district to cobble-stoned big-city chic, the revamped Elliot Street and of course, Wynyard Quarter. It wasn’t quite the 30th birthday I thought it would be, but one day this city will get it right and believe or not, I think it will get there.

Click here to link to the New Zealand Herald articles about the opening night chaos, written by Nikki Kaye and Jacinda Ardern.

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