We got it better than right

The whirlwind of the Rugby World Cup has passed, and chief executive Martin Snedden is enjoying the calm after the storm on rainy Rarotonga.

He sat down with CINews yesterday at Edgewater Resort to talk about the World Cup, the Cook Islands drums at its opening ceremony, and the All Blacks one-point win.

Snedden says the World Cup far exceeded his expectations, and that his greatest point of pride was that New Zealand and the Pacific rallied so enthusiastically around it.

We always hoped it would be something that would lift the spirits of New Zealand, but we couldnt believe by how much, he said. New Zealands victory was the perfect finish to 45 days of a huge amount of fun.

Snedden says one of his priorities throughout was to infuse the Cup with a Pacific flavour.

We knew we would show off our Maori culture but we wanted desperately to show off Pacific culture as well, he said.

The Cook Islands drums which featured in the opening ceremony were totally intentional, as was the choice to slot Tonga in the opening match.

We wanted to capture New Zealand in a diverse way, not as a bicultural society but a reflection of what were becoming, he said.

Snedden was stunned by the outpouring of Pacific support, and pointed in particular to the way the Tongan community stopped Auckland traffic as it cheered on its team.

Feedback from the wider international community, Snedden says, was startlingly positive.

Thats a great testimony to the way New Zealand looked after everybody, he said. The rest of the world doesnt care about how the All Blacks go but they care about whether or not they were properly looked after.

That New Zealanders proved hospitable hosts did wonders for the countrys international profile, he said.

I dont think New Zealand really understood how big the tournament was, he said. I dont think most of New Zealand was aware of how much exposure we would get internationally.

The potential for media coverage meant it was important to get every detail right, and to assemble a Rugby World Cup office of almost 200 employees.

We wanted New Zealand to understand that if we didnt get it right, if people werent seen to be openly welcoming of all 20 teams and not just the All Blacks, it could be a disaster. But if we got it right the opportunities would be enormous. And we got it better than right.

The number of visitors was initially estimated to hit 65,000 a projection that was later amended to 85,000 and then 95,000.

Snedden says that while the official figure has not yet been determined, he predicts the number will be closer to 100,000.

Were absolutely delighted about that were smiling our heads off at the moment.

Snedden visited Rarotonga for the first time in July with Jonah Lomu and a delegation of 80 New Zealand government officials and media practitioners. Their five-day itinerary included Tonga, Samoa and Niue, and their goal was to remind Pacific people that they were very much a part of New Zealands time in the limelight.

That was just designed to let people here know we were thinking about them, Snedden said of the trip. We see the Cooks and Niue as part of New Zealand, and Tonga and Samoa were special to the tournament. It was to send a clear message that you are in our minds it wasnt really about drumming up business, just to say Youre part of what were doing.

It is a bittersweet time for Snedden, as his Rugby World Cup organisation is slowly disbanding its down to 50 employees from 200, and will comprise just 11 people by Christmas after four hectic years.

But this is a chance to take a deep breath, and were smiling because we know weve done our job.

On the All Blacks skin-of-their-teeth win, Snedden said: One point was enough it means everything for the next four years.

Snedden heads to Aitutaki today and returns to New Zealand on Monday. While hes not too sure about what comes next, he says hed like to stay in the sport industry and is eyeing jobs overseas. His stint as Rugby World Cup chief executive finishes on December 23.

  • Rachel Reeves
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