World Cup will be more than sport, McCully pledges
For someone whose name will now forever be linked with the game of rugby, you would think Murray McCully would be at the Sevens over the weekend.
Yet such are the demands on New Zealand's minister for the World Cup that McCully arrived late on Thursday night to promote next year's big event - and left the following day. His feet hardly touched the ground.
McCully, who is also his country's foreign minister, made use of every moment to drum up support for rugby's showcase event, to be staged in New Zealand from September 9 to October 23 next year.
'It's really going to be so much more than just about the rugby,' says McCully, when we met before lunch on Friday at a harbour-side hotel.
'We just want this event to be the basis of one big party, a celebration of everything New Zealand has to offer and everything our country does well, from film-making, to design, to, of course, our food and wine. I think that will be the World Cup's lasting legacy - increasing the world's awareness of just what we have to offer.'
With the event already estimated to run at a loss to the New Zealand government of about US$28 million, the hope is that plenty of tourists will come during the near eight weeks of competition and that plenty more will come afterwards.
'We will do whatever it takes to make the event happen and we stand by that commitment,' McCully says. 'We've budgeted for that loss, but we are certain the benefits to the country far outweigh any risk.'
Just how important hosting the World Cup - and the game of rugby itself - is to the general public is highlighted by the fact McCully is under increasing pressure to focus more of his time on the event and less on the general international affairs of state.
'Rugby in New Zealand is obviously a passion for the whole country,' he says. 'So much so that people are wanting me to focus on it - it is more important to most people than other international matters, for sure. The game itself is not just a great spectacle; it is a great test of character and that's why it is our number-one sport and it always will be. We have 18 months to go now and the excitement is already building.'
And already it seems to be coming at some personal cost for the minister. A regular player with the parliamentary rugby team, he has had to cut short his own time on the field. Not that he thinks his teammates mind, too much.
'Well, I started as a wing and a centre where I like to think I provided some vision, but as my pace has deserted me I have moved more to being a half back,' he says. 'But I'm not convinced my teammates are missing my influence too much as the job requires more and more of my time. These days when I play I just try to make sure I don't embarrass myself.'
A past visitor to the Hong Kong Sevens, McCully believes what will help New Zealand stage a great event is simply the nature of the rugby-watching beast.
'As you find here in Hong Kong, rugby tourists have a style all of their own,' he says. 'It's about the game, but it is also about enjoying good company with friends and making new ones.
'You find that with rugby people like to mix a little business with their pleasure so that's part of what we know will happen when our event kicks off next year.'
And while he would not been drawn on his own nation's chances next year, he will spend the next 18 months banging the drum that no matter what the results are, the effect will be a positive one.
'Of course, winning the World Cup is the perfect dream,' he says. 'But there's also the positive image of the country the event will bring to the rest of the world. We can't wait to get things started.''
The number of rugby clubs in New Zealand is more than: 560
The number of registered players in the country is: 145,293