When is the right to drink beer while watching sport a matter of national significance?
When the All Blacks are less than a month away from a Rugby World Cup, and liquor licensing laws don’t allow New Zealand’s publicans to open during matches.
Rugby-mad Kiwis are awaiting next month’s tournament in Japan with a degree of anxiety, both for the All Blacks’ performance and new broadcast arrangements.
Local broadcasting rights have been bought by telecommunications company Spark, leading many to fear a poor viewing experience.
The government’s intervention, after much urging from fans and political opponents, should at least safeguard pubs.
New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced on Monday that the matter had come before Cabinet, with changes set to hit Parliament this week.
Ms Ardern said she “could confirm no wins at this stage” for the All Blacks but she had “good news” for fans.
“We have agreed to introduce the Sale and Supply of Alcohol Rugby World Cup 2019 Extended Trading Hours Amendment Bill, and that will be put before parliament … essentially immediately,” she said.
The bill is expected to whisk through with broad support.
Relaxing of liquor laws has been necessitated politically by Spark’s acquisition, which restricts traditional broadcaster TVNZ to showing All Blacks games on a delay until, and if, the all-conquering side reaches the semi-finals.
Many, particularly in regional areas, fear technological failings could cause them to miss matches; the same fate which befell Australian-based fans who struggled to watch the football World Cup in 2018 through Optus.
Ms Ardern has seen the political imperative.
“This will mean that fans will be able to watch the matches in bars, in cafes, if they choose,” Ms Ardern said.
“It means fans in rural areas in particular, will be able to get there and watch the games.”
“The changes will apply into the final where I hope of course as a nation we will be joining together to watch our All Blacks.”
Ms Ardern also announced on Monday she would be heading to see New Zealand’s rugby league team, the Warriors, play South Sydney in Auckland on Friday night.
Such is the centrality of rugby to the national psyche, it would not be a surprise to see Ms Ardern attend the tournament in Japan.
New Zealand retained the Bledisloe Cup this month and are handy favourites to claim another World Cup, with their campaign beginning against South Africa on September 21.
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