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Chris Ford: Undie 500 Shows University And City With Head In The Sand

Chris Ford
Chris Ford

As a mature student at the University of Otago, I just have to make comment on the events which transpired around the Undie 500 at the weekend.

First off, the actions of about 500 or so students were deplorable and particularly those who were arrested should be ashamed of themselves and their behaviour today. Secondly, the Undie 500 is nothing but a huge booze cruise/pub crawl between Christchurch and Dunedin and it should be asked as to why some of our so-called future young leaders (if they can be called that) choose to indulge in such activities.

Conversely, nothing can legally be done, though, to stop the running of the Undie 500 and nor can the University of Otago or the Dunedin City Council (let alone the University of Canterbury) cross their fingers and hope that one will not be organised for next year. It is almost as certain as night follows day that the Engineering Society Of Canterbury (ENSOC) who have run the event since 1987, will do so again next year.

Therefore, I agree with the Otago University Students Association (OUSA) of which I am a member in their call for both the University and City Council to support the organising of an event (e.g. a rock concert) to keep rally goers and their Otago friends off the streets. An idea to hold such an event in association with the Undie 500 run was jumped on by these two bodies and the police earlier in the year and as Edwin Darlow, the OUSA President has repeatedly warned, the consequences of not heeding that advice would come back to bite these bodies in the arse - and it has.

I would also seek to question the role of the media and the police in building this event up into what it becomes - a riot. Sending television cameras and reporters into the North Dunedin student area is surely invitation for some students to put on a show. Even the Mayor, a local National list MP and one or two other luminaries went down to Castle Street to check out things, albeit, before Saturday night's carnage began. The arrival of the boys in blue is another factor as, no doubt, some regular Undie 500 attendees will be coming to view this as an annual grudge match. I don't doubt that some police were maliciously attacked on Saturday but where were the reports of students who were roughly treated by these same enforcers of the law? One student interviewed on One Network News last night said that he had been roughed up by the police and he saw one or two other incidents of such behaviour but the police made no apology for this as one of their commanding officers was interviewed as well practically defending their approach to crowd control.

What needs to happen now is for all parties concerned (particularly the University of Otago, the DCC and the Police) to sit down with both students associations and ENSOC and come up with a more constructive response rather than the standard "we don't want you here" refrain.

Mayor Peter Chin and Vice Chancellor David Skegg need to get behind ENSOC and OUSA to support a concert and other activities (e.g. car judging by the mayor) that will make the event a non-violent one for all concerned. Also the booze element needs to be taken out of it as I do agree with one thing that Mayor Chin said on TV One's 'Breakfast' programme this morning in that he referred to the event being sponsored by breweries and if taking them out of the equation could be achieved, then something positive might stem from it.

Otherwise, the University of Otago, the DCC and the Police, if they continue with this head in the sand approach, will just see another Undie 500, with all its attendant potential mayhem, arrive again next year.

NB: Since this blogpost was created, the Canterbury Engineering Students Society has now cancelled the Undie 500 for the "forseeable future." Therefore, I was wrong to think that the Undie would still be organised for next year. However, there is nothing to stop an unofficial event from being organised and mayhem might still result next year.

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