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Super Rugby or super spreader: Uncomfortable reality of Blues vs Crusaders showdown

Jun 16, 2022

Sport

16 Jun, 2022 05:00 PM 4 minutes to read

Around 45,000 fans will be at Eden Park this weekend. Photo / Getty Images

On Saturday afternoon, around 45,000 rugby fans will stream into a sold-out Eden Park to witness the Blues take on the Crusaders in the final of the Super Rugby Pacific tournament.

It marks the climax of the great rivalry between Auckland and Christchurch, but it's also the first major step we're taking towards living with Covid.

NZ Herald senior writer and diehard Blues fan Simon Wilson tells the Front Page podcast that the impact of this event will extend far beyond the proceedings on the rugby pitch.

"This game is sold out – and you have to go back a long time to think of the last time a rugby match was sold out," says Wilson.

"The bar and restaurant owners around the stadium are excited.

"They need this. It's great for us as social animals, but it's fantastic for them to have the jobs and have the businesses functioning. They'll be able to make some money. The stadium is the biggest example of that, but there's a whole infrastructure around it."

The 45,000 people who attend this event and visit the surrounding bars could also offer the lingering effect of giving people the confidence to participate in other activities and events in the coming months.

"The Auckland Theatre Company will next week open its play Scenes from a Yellow Peril, and I hope people go to that," says Wilson.

"It's great that the theatre is coming back. International musical Girl from the North Country will be touring New Zealand and the Auckland Writers' Festival has just announced its programme for this year. It's fantastic to see that that life is coming back. It's not just the sports sector. The cultural sector is back on too."

All this points to a nation that is becoming more comfortable with the risks of living with Covid-19, but the shadow of the pandemic has not yet lifted.

The risk remains that as 45,000 people congregate at the stadium and thousands of others meet at pubs around the country, we could be walking straight into a super-spreader event as we head into the middle of winter.

"There are super-spreader events, still, and we just don't know what might happen. Obviously, people are prepared to take the risk now, but people who feel they are immune-compromised are presumably less likely to take the risk.

"You've got to hope that even those who have tickets to the game, stay home if they're not feeling well."

Wilson says it's only natural for people to want to return to the things that bring us pleasure, but we need to understand the risk that goes with that.

The event at Eden Park this weekend could serve as an important testing ground for what processes should be put in place to ensure that enjoyment and safety are both prioritised. Wilson says events organisers should keep an eye on the game to gauge how safety protocols could be applied in an environment that has shifted to personal responsibility.

"The things we need to analyse is how people keep themselves safe, and that's about social distancing, masks and those sorts of things."

The fierce rivalry between the Blues and the Crusaders will take centre stage. Photo / Getty Images The fierce rivalry between the Blues and the Crusaders will take centre stage. Photo / Getty Images

But this also goes beyond the standard Covid protocols.

"One of the good things about big sports events is that the price of public transport is incorporated into your game ticket. You can travel free on trains and buses to the ground. I hope that's another aspect that goes into the thinking of how big events are hosted in the city.

"You would want to see that rolled out for the concerts at Eden Park as well. The reason they can do it for the rugby is that the Rugby Union pays for the ticket. So concert promoters need to get on board with that too."

The point here is that while live events might be returning to the city, we're under no obligation to continue doing things the same way we always have.

We now have a unique opportunity to improve the experience, so that everyone in attendance feels safe and welcome.

The Front Page is a daily news podcast from the New Zealand Herald, available to listen to every weekday from 5am.

• You can follow the podcast at nzherald.co.nz, iHeartRadio, Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you get your podcasts.

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