Elephant in room as Undie 500 “canned”

by Jake Quinn

Canterbury University has announced that the Undie 500 annual pub crawl from Christchurch to Dunedin has been canned. The event, organised by Canterbury University engineering students, involved a pub crawl  in cars worth under $500.

Last weekend around 80 people were arrested, most of them Otago University students. Students performed the haka and pelted Police with bottles. In turn, Police actually ran out of pepper spray closing the riot down. Last weekend’s Dominion Post interviewed a few of the students:

Chants of “Let’s start a riot”, “F… the police,” and “Scarfies on the piss” rang out. Otago student Emma Newman said she was in “excruciating pain” after being pepper-sprayed at her front door. “I didn’t say anything. I didn’t throw anything. And I didn’t light anything,” she told 3News. Fellow student Jeremy Perkins said he was blinded by the spray. “To be honest, I would have preferred a good old-fashioned batoning.

Young men and women behaved like idiots and as the PM rightly stated: “some of the alleged rioters had blighted their lives.” Criminal records will now haunt them for life. Fancy a rugby trip to North America? Don’t even think about it. They’ll turn you away at the airport without blinking an eye.

Fancy a job at the Corrections Department, Justice Ministry, Police or in the Army? No chance, no hang on that’s not true. You can apply once its been 20 years since your last violent conviction. I wonder if any were law students hoping one day to be admitted to the Bar as a Barrister and Solicitor of the High Court of New Zealand?

The Police acted as you’d have expected them to. After all they have to uphold the law and act to avoid willful damage to private property.  So while some might, you shouldn’t really blame the police for doing their jobs. The poor bastards risk some 19-year-old drunk taking out their eye with a broken bottle – and its all in a day’s work.

Watching the YouTube footage below, older readers might flash back to a certain day in 1981 where protesters fought Police in Hamilton leading to the cancellation of a game during the now infamous Springbok tour of that year. But there was no greater cause being fought on Castle Street last weekend, there was just a bunch of kids boozed off their tits engaging in some foul lord-of-the-flies pack behaviour.

So talk of banning the rally, where creative and resourceful engineering students buy old cars and decorate them really does seem a little misguided. The elephant in the room here is booze. We blame the ‘event’ at our peril because it allows us to sweep the real issue under the rug.

From our horrendous road death toll, to our savage domestic violence and child abuse rates, right through to students behaving badly, the main contributing factor is alcohol. What’s more, something like 90% of hospital admissions during the weekend are caused by it.

And what do we do about it? Bugger all. So we talk about taking alcohol out of some corner stores, we’re thinking even of banning ready to drinks (RTDS). Do you really think this would persuade 18-year-old scarfies not to down 20+ beers and throw bottles at Police? No way.

We need drastic measures to curb alcohol abuse in New Zealand and we need it to be a multi-pronged attack. We could start with doubling the price of wholesale booze, decreasing the blood alcohol driving limit by at least half so that it really is just one or two drinks, removing all alcohol sponsorship of sports and introducing a massive social marketing campaign packed with celebs and sporting heros to try and change the way Kiwis view booze.

We need to get the New Zealand Rugby Union and the All Blacks on board and we must see off the barbaric rugby drinking traditions like ‘court sessions’ where players skull jugs of beer for every mistake they made in a match, get plastered and then hit the town as local heros.

We need to start focusing on the real causes of social problems rather than just demonizing the behaviours themselves. It’s time to put heavy pressure on our politicians to make some (probably unpopular) decisions about booze that are in the best interest of our country.

We need a cultural change, we’re getting there with smoking, we can do it with alcohol.

Update: I like the idea of charging people who end in hospital for alcohol related accidents for the cost of their treatments. I know this doesn’t sit well with the idea of universally accessable and non-user-pays health care but I can live with that.

PS. I think we will be on the right track the day sculling a yard class to celebrate ‘coming of age’ at your twenty first birthday party becomes a barbaric and distant memory.