Hard News by Russell Brown

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Hard News: A better thing to believe in

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  • Robyn Gallagher,

    This bit from the Guardian article really surprised me:

    “If I said: ‘Right, we’re going to have a game at lunchtime, we need 30 boys,’ we’d get it done in 30 seconds,” Port says. “There would be volunteers coming from everywhere.”

    Up to this point in my life, I genuinely had no idea that people played rugby for pleasure. I always thought that there had to be some sort of ulterior motive because (I guess) who would otherwise willingly play rugby?

    That article is brilliant and has done a lot towards unravelling (what is for me) the enigma of the appeal of rugby. Though I literally have no idea how the game works other than it involves running with, throwing and kicking a ball and scoring points by getting the ball over lines.

    Raglan • Since Nov 2006 • 1946 posts Report Reply

  • llew40,

    Good piece.

    Also thought that the Andy Bull article was a genuine attempt to analyse why prolonged success with this particular sport and this particular country has occurred, and it was hard to disagree with his conclusions. It is certainly a much more sensitive piece than the daft hakarena, a joyless attempt at kiwi-baiting.

    It sounds kind of obvious, but keeping kids engaged and enthused (be it sport, education, music, whatever) is not given its rightful priority anywhere often enough.

    Like many, I have an abiding love for the sport because of my father, and his passion and love for the local rugby community. With my father passing away when I was young, it was a way of staying close and true to what I knew of him.

    My love for the game waned in the 1980's (much preferring to play a different sport myself). As a 15 year old I initially supported the Springbok tour (believing naively the stance that sport and politics shouldnt mix), but watching the tour unfold, and hearing the conversations my Mum was having with friends, and seeing the impact it was having, it was easy to fall out of love with rugby.

    When I lived overseas for a decade and a half, I reconnected with rugby. Like many, it was one way to feel patriotic in a strange land and to reassert our sense of New Zealand-ness and home. Some of my favourite memories were watching the All Blacks playing in France, Australia and the UK. (unfortunately, some of my least favourite memories were also of watching some less-than-subtle All Black supporters doing their level best not to endear themselves to local hospitality)

    I thought the Steve Hansen interview with Paddy Gower was extraordinary. It debunked so many painful and long-standing cliches about rugby boof-heads. It showed a level of humility and authenticity that leaders anywhere in any field could learn from. And it wasnt even about rugby. As you say, he and his team seem to represent a version of NZ modernity that I can feel proud to support.

    Since Nov 2012 • 140 posts Report Reply

  • 81stcolumn,

    It is worth a hat-tip to the NZRU for their enlightened relationship with academia. They have funded research and PhD scholarships for at least ten years to my knowledge and possibly longer. Not only does this contribute to a world leading culture of sport research in NZ (which we do export). It seems to have shaped the way in which high performance sport has developed in NZ. I don’t happen to believe that all the research in itself has had direct benefits, but the culture it has created appears to be influential. Indeed it should come as no surprise that NZ Rowing has done the same thing and has achieved similar results.

    That said it’s not all Roses, I would argue the biggest threat to sport in NZ is sport academies in schools. These in many cases have far exceeded their stated purpose, becoming a focal point for conflict between adult values and children's needs.

    It weighs heavily on my mind as Mr. 7 has asked to join his friends in playing before school Rugby. My son made this choice on the basis of friendship, to date he has made no mention of wanting to be an AB.

    As for leadership, this is gold and worth a read while it is still visible. I wonder what politicians amongst others could learn.

    Nawthshaw • Since Nov 2006 • 790 posts Report Reply

  • Katharine Moody,

    John Key has a history of politicisation of the All Blacks. It started out more subtle and one-sided (mainly Key using analogies and references to the ABs in comment/support of political/policy positions his government was taking). But of late one can only wonder how All Blacks management have allowed this politicisation to get quite out-of-hand. It denigrates the team and the sport.

    For example, I found it cringe worthy that Key and his son Max were given the opportunity for photo ops in the dressing room after the Bledisloe Cup win. To me this was a sort of bloke-y sexism in politics that I’d not seen before. I thought, can I picture future female PMs, say Paula Bennett or Jacinda Ardern, taking their place in the post-match dressing room going forward? Or for that matter, where was Key’s wife at the time – left on her own outside the door, or back home in the kitchen while the boys had their day out?

    Maybe I’m being over-sensitive, but this bloke-y, matey political trend with the national side just makes me uncomfortable.

    Wellington • Since Sep 2014 • 798 posts Report Reply

  • 81stcolumn, in reply to Katharine Moody,

    I await with interest any government response to a winning streak by the Ferns.

    Nawthshaw • Since Nov 2006 • 790 posts Report Reply

  • Tom Semmens,

    The irony there, of course, is that the rationalisation inevitably brandished by those who favoured playing with apartheid South Africa was that sport and politics shouldn’t mix.

    When you have pro-National, ex-media works head Brent Impey as head of the NZRFU then the temptation to use all that soft power was always going to be to much for Impey and Key.

    Usually, it takes a generation to forget the lessons of the past - and it is about a generation since 1981. And the lesson of that year? In New Zealand, if you try and mix rugby with politics, you'll get a violent reaction.

    Sevilla, Espana • Since Nov 2006 • 2213 posts Report Reply

  • Kumara Republic,

    It is, let us be honest, a rosy view. Bull writes admiringly of the way Auckland Grammar requires its young rugby to stars to get their education and not only to win games and attract the talent scouts. But he says nothing of the player-poaching and rule-bending that has become rife in school rugby, or the curious disfunction at the city’s flagship team, The Blues.

    Auckland Grammar and its cherry picking of athletes from the "wrong side of the tracks" is yet another example of applied survivorship bias, a point that keeps getting missed by those who think low-decile schools should just emulate the Grammar approach if they want their students to succeed.

    The reason why Auckland Grammar supposedly rates highly is because it turns away anyone perceived not to fit in - it's not a new thing either, as it's been pointed out that John Banks was one of those turned away by Grammar:

    Mr Banks is living walking evidence that one is not necessarily scarred by failure to get an Auckland Grammar education. His biographer - and Epsom electorate rival, Paul Goldsmith - records Mr Banks' failed attempt to get into the school in 1962. He and his father turned up before legendary headmaster Henry Cooper with a less-than-encouraging school report to be told, "We are full this year, we don't even have a place for you in the drongo class."

    The southernmost capital … • Since Nov 2006 • 5420 posts Report Reply

  • BenWilson, in reply to Robyn Gallagher,

    Up to this point in my life, I genuinely had no idea that people played rugby for pleasure.

    Surely that's hyperbole? What ulterior motive were you ascribing to all the people who aren't professional that play it, which is 99.99% of them?

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 10641 posts Report Reply

  • Kumara Republic, in reply to Tom Semmens,

    When you have pro-National, ex-media works head Brent Impey as head of the NZRFU then the temptation to use all that soft power was always going to be to much for Impey and Key.

    The same Brent Impey who dismissed long-form current affairs as the sort of thing only the "chattering classes" were interested in. In other words, blatant anti-intellectualism.

    I took that as a sign of healthy interest in the topic, but one of the panellists that night chucked a bit of cold water on that theory - Brent Impey, the former boss of Mediaworks (the company which owns of TV3, C4, Radio Live, music stations such as The Rock, The Edge and others).

    He's always been an energetic advocate for commercial broadcasting, and he gave an interesting answer to a question from the event's host - Finlay McDonald.

    FM: "How come there is no serious long-form current affairs on New Zealand television?

    BI: "Because people don't want to watch it".

    FM: "People do want to watch it!"

    BI: "People do not want to watch it, Finlay".

    FM: "Put your hands up if you'd like to watch some. There you go!"

    BI: "With the greatest of respect the people in this room are socio-economic 1 and 2 living in Herne Bay, Grey Lynn or Parnell."

    FM: "Put your hands up if that's true!"

    BI: "I want to point this through. There is this great craving for 'It was better when Brian Edwards did that interview on the Post Office. Or Ian Fraser. But the reality is it's been tried time and time again and the public don't want to know".

    The southernmost capital … • Since Nov 2006 • 5420 posts Report Reply

  • BenWilson, in reply to Katharine Moody,

    But of late one can only wonder how All Blacks management have allowed this politicisation to get quite out-of-hand. It denigrates the team and the sport.

    Yes, it seems to me that rugby has a lot less to gain out of the National Party than vice versa.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 10641 posts Report Reply

  • Deborah, in reply to Katharine Moody,

    Maybe I’m being over-sensitive, but this bloke-y, matey political trend with the national side just makes me uncomfortable.

    Me too, Katharine.

    New Lynn • Since Nov 2006 • 1445 posts Report Reply

  • simon g,

    All political leaders embrace their country's sports teams when they win, it's on page one of the image-making handbook. Key does it more than others. Still, Helen hugging Reuben Wiki was a sight to behold!

    But the really grating aspect is not that he does it, but that he so rarely gets called on it. It's fake, we know it's fake, so why pretend that it isn't fake? Why does a reporter call him a "die hard" and "devoted" fan? (Actual descriptions used). Words that mean - loyal when they lose.

    In 2010 NZ's soccer team made it to the World Cup, and performed well. There was a bandwagon to be jumped on, so Key took the ride. Wearing the shirt, going to South Africa, walking alongside the coach and players - all the usual made-for-TV stunts. (And again, most leaders would have done the same, if more subtly).

    In 2014 the All Whites didn't qualify, they aren't much good now, so naturally their die-hard fan has disappeared. The PM never mentions the team or even the sport. And you can find countless other examples of fairweather fandom (we are all Team NZ sailors and sock-wearers now - er, sorry, we're not).

    In democracies that have a fourth estate who are half-awake, this kind of behaviour from politicians is so widely derided that nobody takes it - or them - seriously at all. In the last UK election campaign, David Cameron forgot which football team he pretended to support ("Aston Villa? West Ham? Where's my polling data?") and of course everyone took the piss. I mean, everyone . Hardly any Tories jumped up and said "But he's a fan, leave him alone, he's totes real!". They simply said "Who cares, we vote on the economy or other policies." As grown-ups should.

    In fact, the evidence suggests that New Zealand voters aren't as dumb as the media want us to be. Pundit wisdom in 2011: if ABs win Rugby World Cup, National win a landslide. What happened? The polls barely moved, before, during and after the tournament. Because voters can and do separate sport and politics. Supporting a team versus supporting a party.

    Now we just need some of our media to do the same ...

    (PS Go the ABs, Steve Hansen is a cuddly, grumpy bear and I love him ...)

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 1324 posts Report Reply

  • Alec Morgan,

    was bought up on rugby and detest it still, the excusing complexities skate over me;
    let me count the ways…
    –forced to play on pain of ridicule at primary school and punishment at int/secondary when athletics was my choice
    –sitting next to Ron Don on a plane in ’81 and arguing all the way
    –the winter of ’81 a blur of demos/helmets and taking your “HART/Stop The Tour” badge off for a few minutes peace sometimes while out in public
    –harassed by plain clothes cops for months later for exercising freedom of speech and association
    –defacto Nat party networks are often formed by rural rugby clubs, lodges and firestations
    –the slippery Cavaliers South African tour
    –the relentlessly bullying macho culture
    –dear leader–alt AB captain according to Rugby News cover 2014 election
    –the John and Richie approved flag and parliamentary “Rubber Wool Cub” launch
    –the assumed toryness of ABs until proven otherwise–good on you Piri–public exceptions are rare, something to do with contracts?

    I understand some sporting obsessions–like the Bathurst 1000 V8 race which is an annual holiday for me, but rugby is too embedded in “kiwi” reactionary conservatism to make a comeback in my lifetime

    Whaddarrrryaaaaa!!!!

    Tokerau Beach • Since Nov 2006 • 121 posts Report Reply

  • Paul Campbell, in reply to Tom Semmens,

    When you have pro-National, ex-media works head Brent Impey as head of the NZRFU then the temptation to use all that soft power was always going to be to much for Impey and Key.

    People keep telling me not to call it the NZRFU, I suspect the reason they changed the name was because people were starting to twig to what the “FU” stood for

    Dunedin • Since Nov 2006 • 2608 posts Report Reply

  • James Littlewood*,

    I don't really do much sport stuff. But from what I can see, professionalism has completely fucked it up pretty much everywhere. cricket match-tossers; FIFA thieves; America's Cup litigators; and substance abusers everywhere ... you don't have to look far.

    Far as I can tell, Rugby is relatively clean next to that lot. But I also hear you RB (along with many others) that high school politics suffer all sorts of distortions in the name of the 1st XV.

    I used to live next door to a suburban league club, and spent some time on the sidelines hanging out with the grannies. Now, that was entertainment!

    Auckland • Since Mar 2008 • 410 posts Report Reply

  • Bruce Thorpe,

    Sad days for me when a prime minister who makes my skin crawl, takes over the All Blacks and captain Richie McCaw.

    i love rugby played well, and in my time have cheered for Campese and Horan, and those wonderful French who wrecked the arrogant blacks that day when only Lomu was worthy of his jersey.
    mccaw and Hansen have created a truly great team, although I suspect there are a couple of celebrity choices in the squad, but while Key hovers over them I will hoping the Irish(with the only Northlander at the cup, or some brilliant unknowns become the hetroes of the tournament.







    caw and Hansen have won me over with the style, spirit and

    Hokianga • Since May 2007 • 51 posts Report Reply

  • Bruce Thorpe,

    Sad days for me when a prime minister who makes my skin crawl, takes over the All Blacks and captain Richie McCaw.

    i love rugby played well, and in my time have cheered for Campese and Horan, and those wonderful French who wrecked the arrogant blacks that day when only Lomu was worthy of his jersey.
    mccaw and Hansen have created a truly great team, although I suspect there are a couple of celebrity choices in the squad, but while Key hovers over them I will hoping the Irish(with the only Northlander at the cup, or some brilliant unknowns become the heroes of the tournament.

    Hokianga • Since May 2007 • 51 posts Report Reply

  • Alec Morgan, in reply to Bruce Thorpe,

    love that typo…?
    “hoping the Irish (with the only Northlander at the cup, or some brilliant unknowns become the hetroes of the tournament”

    Tokerau Beach • Since Nov 2006 • 121 posts Report Reply

  • 81stcolumn,

    "Winning sports records boost incumbents’ vote totals and likelihoods of reelection, exceeding in magnitude the effect of variation in unemployment. In contrast, sports records following elections display no such relationship."

    A study found here.

    I'm not sure if this is paywalled or not.

    Nawthshaw • Since Nov 2006 • 790 posts Report Reply

  • BenWilson, in reply to 81stcolumn,

    I’m not sure if this is paywalled or not.

    It is. An unfortunate consequence of academic professionalism. One point for rugby - delayed broadcasts are usually free :-)

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 10641 posts Report Reply

  • 81stcolumn, in reply to BenWilson,

    Don't don't start me....

    Given the expensive hours required to produce, edit and review research; it is staggering that academics are encouraged to give it to people who then charge inflated, rorted prices for it.

    Nawthshaw • Since Nov 2006 • 790 posts Report Reply

  • kris_b,

    There's something really remarkable about this. It's a consultation process that paid most attention to its least influential respondents. It's the opposite of top-down.

    It's also the complete opposite of how many other sports do it, instead letting adults dead set on reliving the glory days of their youth run riot over the structure and organisation of kids and teens sport, leading to the exact kind of half-arsed results the All Blacks and NZ rowing have avoided. The miserable condition of NZ swimming is a prime example of this.

    Auckland • Since Jan 2012 • 16 posts Report Reply

  • 81stcolumn,

    It’s also the complete opposite of how many other sports do it, instead letting adults dead set on reliving the glory days of their youth run riot over the structure and organisation of kids and teens sport, leading to the exact kind of half-arsed results the All Blacks and NZ rowing have avoided. The miserable condition of NZ swimming is a prime example of this.

    I don't think the arguments involving vicarious behaviours of parents are as straightforward as might appear. Historical participation data would strongly suggest that many parents lack meaningful knowledge with regard to the sports they are watching. The level of expertise demanded by modern sport is substantially different, even at school level which is a problem for coaches and parents. Unfortunately the discourses of commodified sport (think any given Sunday) fill a lot of the gaps, which matches very poorly with the experiences necessary to sustain and develop sport.

    Nawthshaw • Since Nov 2006 • 790 posts Report Reply

  • Briar Ingledew,

    I might be one of many, however I find the glorification of the All Blacks tiresome. Now I’m not from a family that was bought up idolizing them, and I do respect the players and the sport, however when will we give credit and recognition to other sporting teams that have won major championships, or even came close? It’s fair to say NZ has gone All Blacks mad; there isn’t an advertising space that isn’t plastered with All Blacks signage, just look at Anchor milk and Whitakers. Or take the petition for Richie McCaw as Prime Minister.

    Oh well, looks like I will be turning my newsfeed off when the Rugby World Cup starts, as I’m presuming this will take center stage across every New Zealand media outlet during its run, I wonder if anyone will be commenting on the NZ Flag debate then?

    Auckland • Since Sep 2015 • 2 posts Report Reply

  • Alfie, in reply to Katharine Moody,

    I came to rugby later in life than most people. I played soccer as a kid and hated the stop/start nature of rugby games... let the action flow! Sometime in the early 90s I discovered the joy of watching good rugby. It's now the only sport I watch on a regular basis and I'd never miss an ABs' match.

    But of late one can only wonder how All Blacks management have allowed this politicisation to get quite out-of-hand.

    Ditto. I hate the way Key constantly makes a dork of himself hoping All Black mana will somehow rub off on him. That infamous three-way handshake which made him the butt of jokes around the world might have taught him a lesson. Sadly it didn't.

    His recent blathering about Ritchie making a good MP was poorly advised. Luckily McCaw had the good taste to squash that idea saying something like (and I paraphrase)... When you're an All Black the whole country loves you; but when you're an MP half the country hates you. Well said that man.

    Unfortunately that gem of common sense was lost on NZRFU management. Their embarrassingly staged announcement of the world cup squad at Parliament with Key making sure he was standing front and centre throughout, was truly awful.

    I will watch all of their world cup games, but I have to admit that my previously unbridled passion for the All Blacks died just a little that day.

    Thanks for that, John Key.

    Dunedin • Since May 2014 • 1387 posts Report Reply

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