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September 19, 2011 | by  | in Opinion |
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Laying Down the Law – A game of two Halves

Last week New Zealand welcomed in the Rugby World Cup.

It’s been a long time coming—first bid for by the fifth Labour Government in 2005 and finally implemented by the current National-led Government, it was intended to showcase New Zealand to the world.

To an extent it has done that. While opinions on the opening ceremony have been divided, most New Zealanders have warmly embraced this sporting phenomena.
But some of them have not. Particularly in the urban enclaves of Wellington, much vitriol has been heaped on the Rugby World Cup. Some of it is clearly justified, and some of it is not.

There are two major problems that eventuate when major sporting events such as the Rugby World Cup, or the Olympics take place. The first is the monumental challenge that government faces in order to get things ready in time, and ready to work effectively. The law, and how it is dealt with has an important role to play in this. For example, the restrictive limitations of the Resource Management Act 1991 made things difficult for government when upgrading our stadiums. The Minister for the Rugby World Cup, Murray McCully, even contemplated passing legislation to temporarily over ride the RMA. Thankfully he didn’t need to—but it does demonstrate the pressure that the government was under.

The Local Government Act 2002, and the Local Government (Rating) Act 2002 also have an impact. They provides the authority for City Councils to levy rates. Aucklanders alone have contributed over $100 million to the Rugby World Cup. Here’s hoping there is a decent return on their investment.

The second problem is more visceral. Along with the revelry, tournaments have a darker side. Public drunkenness, assaults and sexual violence are the unwanted underbelly of major sporting events. Here too, the law has a role to play in ensuring people are protected, managed or have somewhere to turn when its time to right a wrong. Regrettably, over the next six weeks judges can expect to see the criminal law getting a good run-around.

I’ve been following how my friends and peers have reacted to the Rugby World Cup, and their differing responses have intrigued me. On the one hand there is a clear appreciation for the opportunities that the RWC can bring. It is after all, an international festival. One where different peoples from around the world come together to celebrate a shared passion. You don’t need to be a rabid fan of rugby to appreciate the commonweal that major events like this bring. The vast majority of cup goers are well-meaning, tee-totaling families who just want to enjoy a fun, collective experience.

But on the other hand there has been an outpouring of pre-emptive vitriol against the Cup. One well read blog, and commenters on the Facebook page of the Wellington Young Feminist’s collective, immediately attacked the World Cup as being a vehicle for sexual violence, gender discrimination and patriarchy. There is undoubtably a serious point here. Sexual violence against women, homosexuals and gender minorities is an abhorrent and unacceptable consequence of many major sporting events. After the opening ceremony in Auckland on 8 September a gay bar owner was assaulted in K Road. This is just the tip of the iceberg. There are likely to have been more incidents, and many will go unreported.
It’s hard to reconcile these two points of view, both have valid arguments. Major events should be safe environments where everyone, irrespective of gender, can participate in peace. My ideal Cup would be one where the coercive power of the law is unnecessary. Squaring the two points of view is difficult. My disquiet comes from way the Rugby World Cup has become instantly polarised. One can be opposed to sexual violence and gender discrimination, and even make the argument that major sporting events contribute to the problem in significant ways. But one can also enjoy a game or two of rugby and still call themselves a feminist. If certain feminist discourses become uniformly entrenched they can become in and of themselves, disempowering.

By instantly framing the Rugby World Cup as a battle between the primeval forces of male babarism and the enlightened Amazons of feminism we don’t really get anywhere. This is a problem, because its absolutely vital that we do. Nuanced discussions of gender, violence and rugby are invaluable to a more complete understanding of privilege and partriachy. How we utilise, apply and reform our law is ultimately predicated on the result of that conservation.

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About the Author ()

Conrad is a very grumpy boy. When he was little he had a curl in the middle of his forehead. When he was good, he was moderately good, but when he was mean he was HORRID. He likes guns, bombs and shooting doves. He can often be found reading books about Mussolini and tank warfare. His greatest dream is to invent an eighteen foot high mechanical spider, which has an antimatter lazer attached to its back.

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