The so-called demise of the Wellington Sevens

Sideline Sid
Sports correspondent & historian
www.sunlive.co.nz

It's been interesting to hear and read in the media about the so-called demise of the Wellington Sevens, which is being staged at the Cake Tin in New Zealand's capital city this weekend.

Every man and his dog has an opinion on why spectators are shying away from what use to be the hottest ticket in town.

In this humble writers view, the Sevens spectator downturn is just part of changes in sport (and life) where events run their course.

What was hot a decade or two ago, is now likely forgotten as yesterday's attraction.

Looking back in sport in New Zealand shows there are many sports and pastimes that have been long consigned to the annuals of history.

A classic example is cash cycling that attracted large crowds at the dawn of the twentieth century.

One of the most famous was the Timaru to Christchurch "cash" cycle race that was first held in 1899. 

From the 1920's, track cycle racing boomed. Twilight and floodlight meetings provided entertainment between six o'clock, when the pubs closed and the Saturday night dances.

Evening track programmes included sprints, pursuits, points and handicap racing, with crowds flocking to the tracks in their thousands.

Motor paced events became hugely popular.

It was reported that in 1956, 20,000 patrons packed in to Christchurch's English Park, to watch World Pro sprint champion Reg Harris from England take on the Australian and New Zealand champions.

The arrival of television and the six o'clock closing of hotels in the 1960's, saw the end of track (cash) cycling in the country.

A little research shows that the beginning of organised athletics in New Zealand dates back to the "rural sports" of the 1840's and 1850's.

These were anniversary day fetes and other celebratory days in early New Zealand that featured foot races for cash prizes.

Other rural sports included climbing greasy poles and wheelbarrow races.

The arrival of the Caledonian Games in the 1860's, celebrating scotch heritage, brought such as tossing the caber, hammer throwing, vaulting and standing and running jumps. 

A look at the sporting history of one of the fathers of cricket in the Bay of Plenty, provides insight into local sport a century and more ago.

FJ (Francis John) Burt, who was born in 1872 and lived most of his life in the Eastern Bay of Plenty, would be regarded as super star in today's world with his list of notable sporting events. 

FJ Burt was an all round sportsman, with ability in athletics, tennis, football rugby and swimming.

He was no slouch on the athletics circuit.

At Opouriao on Boxing Day 1905 he tied with Hori Eruera, who was the Australasian champion pole jumper.

As an interesting aside, it's been stated that in his athletics' career he started in and won 56 sack races.

In the days before the formation of the Bay of Plenty Rugby Union – it was reported that in 1891, at the age of 19 years, FJ Burt represented the Tauranga Rugby Union against Auckland playing as a three-quarter. Tauranga won the game 5-4.

He joined the Bay of Plenty Rugby Union in its inception in 1911 and was the Union Patron at the time of his death in 1947.

FJ was also an outstanding tennis player winning the New Zealand Veterans doubles in 1925.      

However, it was cricket that held FJ Burt's attention for nearly 50 years.

A cricket player of outstanding merit, he represented Bay of Plenty regularly until 1934.

At 64 years of age he came out of retirement to play for the Bay against Auckland Colts at Eden Park in Auckland.

One can only wonder about the twists and turns of sport in the future – perhaps we may see a cricket test under lights at the Bay Oval.

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