The event, which will be held at BCI Stadium between 31 October and 2 November, is growing in scope and popularity.
The first Cook Island 7s had All Blacks Eric Rush playing for the Sheraton, Fiji star Waisale Severi playing for General Motors and Wallabies Daniel Herbert and Peter Slatery playing for the Edgewater. Rush played in the first Raro International 7s in 1989, Lomu didn't play until 1994.
This year, Eric Rush is back – but he is returning to a competition that will pretty much fill the stadium and bring Rarotonga to a halt. Organisers are encouraging sponsors and other fans to take part in this year’s costume parade – the theme is Tropical Island Flavour.
Sixteen men’s teams and four women’s are registered, representing an expansion on last year’s tournament, which involved 13 men’s teams and four women’s. Organisers are expecting more than 5000 people to attend.
Presumably, part of the uptick in interest has to do with an expanded prize pool, which last year jumped from $19,000 to $22,000.
“This approach works,” says a previously unpublished debrief report prepared for sponsors after last year’s event, “with the level of play improving.”
Another reason for the growing interest is the expanded publicity, made possible by sponsorship from Bluesky Cook Islands last year.
For the first time, the tournament was livestreamed so that Cook Islanders and rugby enthusiasts overseas could be part of it without having to pay for an airfare.
“The positive impact of streaming was that our overseas community became a part of the event,” the debrief report says. Tens of thousands of people streamed the event; some days, video content reached nearly 40,000 viewers.
According to last year’s debrief report, Bluesky coming on board as a sponsor “really elevated the promotions internationally”, given that it allowed for livestreaming.
Bluesky Cook Islands has again agreed to be a silver sponsor for this year’s 7s. The deal was signed by Cook Island Rugby Union’s acting president Simiona Teiotu, the event’s boss Jessie Sword, and Bluesky chief executive Philip Henderson.
Cook Island Tourism general manager Halatoa Fua has also signed up the corporation as a bronze sponsor, saying Raro Rugby 7s was a major event on the Cook Islands Tourism calendar and an important visitor attraction.
Tickets are on sale now.