The All Blacks market themselves with their play on the field. So why is New Zealand considering a running of the sheep and scantily-clad women as a method of promoting their hosting of the 2011 Rugby World Cup? (MARTY MELVILLE/AFP/GETTY IMAGES)

The rumors are true. There are a lot of sheep in New Zealand.

Take it from someone who lived in NZ for six months.

A lesser-known characteristic of many Kiwis: they have a bit of an inferiority complex.

And who wouldn’t when you’re a small island nation nearly falling off the bottom of the globe that rarely gets mentioned outside of a sentence that also includes England or Australia?

Nevertheless, the Kiwis are a proud people who are conscious of their global image and would rather be seen as the progressive, democratic country they see in the mirror and not one giant sheep farm full of backwoods hillbillies.

So when organizers of the upcoming 2011 Rugby World Cup — hosted by New Zealand — announced their intention to promote the competition by parading sheep and scantily clad women through city streets while encouraging fans to abstain from sex to exert their energy cheering for the home team, it’s no wonder some citizens objected.

The plan was to parade sheep and models in bikinis through Auckland — the nation’s biggest city — to cap a series of celebrations leading up to the World Cup final. This week, amid public outcry, organizers canceled the parade.

The head of the Royal New Zealand Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA), Robyn Kippenberger spoke for many Kiwis when he asked: “What were they thinking?”

Kippenger opposed the parade for animal rights reasons, but also for international perception reasons. It’s not the running of the bulls in Pamplona, it’s sheep, being herded down city streets flanked by beach babes. Fellow citizens feared the image, if broadcast worldwide, would brand them in a negative, inaccurate light. (NBC will provide unprecedented multi-platform coverage of the tournament in the United States next month).

The idea was to promote the best of New Zealand industry, according to Leon Grice, director of NZ 2011 which is overseeing the events. But Kiwis seem more eager to celebrate their full cultural experience rather than simply playing up the stereotypes.

Now Telecom, which sponsors New Zealand’s national rugby team, the All Blacks, has launched a campaign jokingly urging Kiwis to abstain from sex before big matches to help their team’s performance (video above). The ad features former All Blacks captain Sean Fitzpatrick encouraging his countrymen to “abstain for the game.” This ad is now drawing ire redirected from the aborted sheep run.

In the eyes of Tom Agee, a senior lecturer in marketing at the University of Auckland, tournament organizers are simply trying too hard. The All Blacks are beloved on their native soil and feared outside of New Zealand’s borders and should once again contend for their first World Cup since 1987. Shouldn’t that be enough to get the nation fired up to host the cup?

Said Agee: “It’s a dumb idea. I just don’t think we need to do stuff like this.”