It will be New Zealand's biggest sporting event, a rare chance for the country to bathe in the international limelight and show off the prowess of the All Blacks national team. So every detail of the Rugby World Cup is being carefully managed – down to measures to prevent fans from getting too drunk and using beer cans as missiles.
Bartenders at match venues will refuse to serve "intoxicated patrons", according to a report in the Sunday Star-Times. In addition, they have been instructed to open beer cans before handing them over, to minimise the risk of the cans causing "severe blunt force trauma" if hurled. The crackdown on drunkenness is the latest move by rugby authorities to manage the tournament, which starts in Auckland next week.
The event, though, is turning into a public-relations fiasco. According to local media, some hotels are charging up to 15 times more than their usual rates. Amie Jane, the wife of the All Blacks player Cory Lane, has tweeted to complain she will have to sleep on friends' couches because accommodation prices in Auckland were "f-* crazy", the Herald on Sunday reported. The tweet has since been deleted.
Meanwhile, the international fans poised to descend for the six-week rugby extravaganza could find their fun drastically curtailed. The Compass Group, which will provide catering services at seven of the 13 World Cup venues, has promised to enforce a "one strike, you're out" policy in relation to drunk spectators. Bartenders will open beer cans before serving them, on the grounds that the cans cannot be thrown far once opened. And on the cruise ships being used as floating hotels in Auckland and Wellington, intoxicated fans could be banned from drinking for 24 hours.
World Cup organisers have already been lampooned for plans to run a thousand sheep down Auckland's main street, accompanied by bikini-clad models on quad bikes, to celebrate the competition. That idea has been dropped, along with an advertising campaign by Telecom New Zealand, which urged Kiwis to abstain from sex and save their energies for cheering on the All Blacks. Adding to New Zealanders' woes, their hopes of winning the world title for the first time since 1987 were severely dampened at the weekend, when the All Blacks suffered their second consecutive defeat – this time at the hands of arch-foes Australia, who triumphed 25-20 to win the Tri Nations tournament contested by Australia, New Zealand and South Africa.
Australian newspapers, meanwhile, are so frustrated by International Rugby Board rules on the use of video that they have boycotted the accreditation system and are threatening to cover matches from outside the stadiums. For fans, the alcohol restrictions will hurt most. And even their personal safety is not guaranteed. Anna Sandiford, a forensic scientist, told the Sunday Star-Times that empty beer cans could be dangerous. "Cans have the potential to be squashed and tossed around as frisbees ... then they get sharp edges, so you have a cutting, sharp-force injury potential," she said.
But Ian Crowe, the tournament's hospitality manager, insisted there would be a zero-tolerance approach to can-throwing. "You throw, you go," he said.