Colonial past dominates New Zealand sport, but for how long?

Colonial past dominates New Zealand sport, but for how long?

New Zealand’s sporting landscape is dominated by ‘commonwealth’ sports. The sports we read about, are encouraged to play and watch on television – rugby, netball, cricket, league and football.
The fastest growing ethnicities in New Zealand are Asian – Chinese, Korean, Indian and in terms of growth rate, Philipino.The majors sports from these countries include table tennis, badminton, volleyball, baseball, taekwondo, basketball, hockey and of course, football being the world game. 

How and when will this translate to changes in our sporting landscape?

Sport in New Zealand is delivered by many entities – formal sports organisations such as NZ Rugby and Netball New Zealand; schools; community sports organisations, including regional sports trusts and churches among others; commercial providers; and local authorities with a focus on facilities.

The major sports, with a relentless drive for growth, will try and encourage these ethnic groups to participate, but is this sensible and efficient? How well positioned are the codes popular in these countries to support development – Table Tennis NZ, Badminton NZ, Baseball NZ? NZ Cricket has one Indian player out of 21 contracted players – 4.5%,  which nicely represents the Indian population in New Zealand, 4% as at 2013 census. But does it represent the importance of cricket in the Indian community? This is not a criticism of NZ Cricket, rather an example of possible change. Is hockey in a similar position? South Korea has hosted a FIFA World Cup, reached the final four and made the last nine FIFA world cup finals tournaments, but how representative are South Koreans in our national squads?

Sport New Zealand’s community sport strategy specifically talks about improving reach to underrepresented communities and has introduced trageted populations funding, which is now largely focused on Auckland – this is good. As Sport NZ’s primary measure is absolute participation numbers and given it is easier to retain than attract participants, will the funding continue to follow the strategy? Funding requires organisation. You need to know how to attract funders, have the desire and motivation to seek funding and the capability to deliver; therefore, in the first instance it will largely be up to the incumbent entities to drive any change. Aktive Auckland Sport and Recreation, and others will need to hold the line.

Schools will respond to demographic changes. Whether changes are driven by forward-thinking heads and boards of trustees, or central strategy directives will dictate the pace and impact.

The commercial providers will follow the money and as such may drive change the quickest in the short term.

Local authorities have to operate to longer timeframes and the recent development of multi-purpose facilities should provide some flexibility. Auckland Council, with the largest new immigrant population, have a complexity of plans that include addressing these changes, but will the menagerie of sports organisations in Auckland be able to coordinate effectively?

And then there is high performance. Will we see a day when New Zealand becomes a major force in badminton, volleyball or baseball driven by Asian ethnicities? Table tennis is dominated by new Chinese in New Zealand, with one player achieving Olympic qualifying standard, but lacked support from NZOC – disappointing, but reflects the the current focus. High performance is largely not about absolute participation numbers, rather it is lead by the quality of the organisation and administrators, and the development of world class coaching structures and high performance programmes. Track cycling is a recent example in New Zealand of a minority sport with relatively low participation, that has built a world class, high performance capability and performed accordingly. For this to happen, a collective with the interest, passion and commitment needs to lead. Realistically, how important is high performance sport to developing immigrant communities – for the Chinese playing table tennis it clearly is important?

The short term opportunities appear to be with cricket (maybe hockey) and football. Well established sports who will need to reach beyond their traditional base. In the long term it will come down to the motivation and skill of administrators in what are today minor sports and community organisations funding strategy and delivery.

Funding and watching the Olympics and the All Blacks – do we get a fair deal?

Funding and watching the Olympics and the All Blacks – do we get a fair deal?

High Performance Sport New Zealand (HPSNZ) provides around $34m p.a. to targeted sports (30+), the New Zealand Olympics Committee (NZOC) and New Zealand Paralympics, in addition to $21m to support specific athletes, coaches and officials. Altogether the funding is $55m p.a.
The opening of HPSNZ current strategic plan is a quote from the Minister of Sport – “When we see New Zealanders competing and winning on the world stage it unites us as a nation, and inspires youngsters to get out and participate in sport”.

Followed by the first paragraph of the introduction – “The government invests in high performance sport for the many benefits it brings to the whole country, including the national pride we feel when we see New Zealanders standing on the podium.”

The conundrum discussed is that the benefit of New Zealanders “seeing” our sporting achievements is diminished as the majority of the opportunities to view these sports is either on pay television or not televised at all.

Is it an indictment of our social system that government funded sport, for the purpose of seeing ‘New Zealand competing and winning on the world stage’ is not freely available to all to view?

Is this situation any different than other part state funded activities? Department of Conservation fund campgrounds, but without the expense of camping equipment, camp fees etc. you can’t utilise them? School trips, if you can’t pay you can’t go, but isn’t education supposed to be free?

Is there something special about sport that we should consider it in a different light to education and access to public spaces?

What if there was additional cost associated with providing free-to-air sport? Would we be happy if the government had to pay broadcast rights to ensure sports were free on TV?

There are also questions of what we believe are events of national significance – we mustn’t forget that the professional All Blacks do not receive government funding. Is another All Blacks test against Argentina more significant than a Ranfurly Shield challenge, the Black Sox competing in the world champs (generally not broadcast), Valerie Adams winning Diamond League events (lucky if we get a sound bite on the 6 o’clock news)? Are the ANZAC commemorations at Gallipoli nationally significant, perhaps these should be televised and compete for the same dollars as sport?

I believe the argument comes down to two issues.

Sport is an important part of New Zealand’s culture, as such it is generally accepted that public funding be available to sport. But, what is the value of ‘feel good’, ‘punching above our weight’, especially in sports with low or restricted participation, rowing and equestrian for example? Funding for participation is easier to justify, but how strong is the correlation between high performance and participation? One of the fastest growing sports in New Zealand is volleyball and we don’t figure on the world stage. Football has consistently had high participation, but our global performance is variable at best. Gym Sports, again high participation yet no high performance programme, it is focused purely on participation.

Secondly, do we want to nationalise the televising of sports events? What is the cost and is that a better way to build ‘national pride’ than say being proud of our global leadership in social justice as we once were, the way we treat those in society with less, the way we were prepared to take a stand on the global stage rather than following the lead of the more powerful nations? Is there not a touch of state propaganda in a nationalising approach?

It is easy to hark back to the good old days, but rugby is professional and the All Blacks are a commercial venture, and if you want to win medals at the Olympics it costs significant money.
Fully professionally funded sports, such as Rugby, the answer is obvious – they are businesses, operating in a commercial environment and should remain so.
Olympic sports that rely heavily on public funding are more complicated and need to be considered in the round with the rest of our social system, including education, health, conservation, the arts and so forth.

I for one do get a buzz out of New Zealanders winning, but would feel a little uneasy that public money is spent or legislation enacted to enable my viewing of this in order to create a sense of national euphoria.

I would suggest that despite the restricted access that pay TV naturally creates, there are opportunities through limited free-to-air TV, social media and general media coverage to view New Zealanders winning on the world stage. This will only improve as the diversity of media organisations increases providing access to more and more sport, including the likes of softball and others which we excel at, but perhaps aren’t as commercially viable.

Any funding that gets people active and engaged is a good thing!

Should NZ Rugby divest 7s (this is not a dig at NZR)?

Should NZ Rugby divest 7s (this is not a dig at NZR)?

New Zealand and Fiji have dominated the Rugby 7s scene since it’s inception. During this time the All Blacks and NZ Rugby have becoming increasingly dominate in the performance, development and organisation of Rugby 15s.

The breadth and depth of the other countries playing international 7s has been improving rapidly,
especially from non-traditional rugby nations, USA and Kenya for example.

Rugby 7s appearance at the Olympics has given the code another stage to perform on and gain promotion. It would have to be argued whether the Olympics will now be considered the pinnacle of 7s, or like other recents Olympic sports with well established international competition, it’s just another tournament on the circuit.

Rugby 7s is becoming more and more specialised in terms of skills, strength and conditioning needs and natural physical attributes from top players. Rugby 7s has evolved significantly, both tactically on the field and in player preparation and development. We see that in the challenge that players from 15s and other codes have had making the shift (except SBW, naturally!).

A lot has been written about the performance of the men’s 7s team in Rio. The main culprits raised are either the coach (his training methods and respect from the team) or NZ Rugby’s policy regarding selection/availability of NZR contracted players.

There will of course be a significant review in NZR following Rio (there would have been regardless of the outcome), but should NZR consider divesting themselves of 7s?

Would a separate organisation enable 7s to compete more effectively for participants at all levels? Would they be able to sell themselves as a different code than ‘rugby’, with fewer collisions and therefore safer, definitely valuing different physical attributes?

Could a 7s organisation align closely with touch? Touch New Zealand is a separate organisation from NZR. Touch and has a very strong social / casual following, with significant play-for-pay participation – good money for organisations involved.

Academy programmes are forcing players to make code selections earlier and earlier, and with NZRs emphasis on 15s the best players are naturally funneled into 15s to detriment of 7s. As a unique organisation could 7s create a more attractive pathway than the NZR can offer today?

Will there continue to be less-and-less player cross-over, or with the tempo of 15s increasing might we see the two codes converge again, in which case is NZ better placed to manage this convergence under a single organisation?

The international 7s scene is quite different than 15s, both the competition structures, competing countries and therefore the broadcast and sponsorship makeup. Would a separate organisation be able to manage this environment better than the professional machine of NZR?

NZR is a very professional machine able to promote the growth of community sport, develop the professional sport and attract great money. Given this muscle, does it make sense to consider diverging the two codes and allowing 7s to promote itself uniquely, or would 7s struggle without the might of NZR?

Netball in New Zealand, responding well to the challenges?

Netball in New Zealand, responding well to the challenges?

In the previous netball post we raised questions regarding the end of the ANZ Championship and moves from Netball Australia to dominate the professional club scene. Since then there have been strong performances from New Zealand teams in the ANZ Champs, although we will have to see how well they compete in the final series, and a great finish to the new Beko league.

Netball Australia have started to show their hand, with suggestions they will not impose limits on the  number of international players in their new competition, aiming to make it the premier club competition. 

Netball NZ has appointed Jennie Wylie as the new CEO. Jennie has been with NNZ for 7 years as the head of finance and administration. A truly passionate netball person with strong corporate and finance experience. Steve Lancaster, the head of High Performance has resigned and is returning to rugby.

Is the appointment of Jennie Wylie a good move by the board? With a clear love of netball, including a strong connection with the netball community it would appear so. She is the first CEO since netball entered the professional age, to come from within the ranks, a signal that netball supports not just player, but administration pathways? Her big challenges will be responding to Netball Australia, ensuring the new Elite League is marketed well, funded well and accepted by the netball community and general sports fans, and the ongoing drive for community sport participation.

Is the need for a new head of HP going to be an opportunity for the CEO to appoint a netball knowledgable person into this key role?

Netball Australia signaling no limits on international players has got to be a concern for netball New Zealand, England and possibly Jamaica.  Should New Zealand follow suit, or take a NZ Rugby protectionist stance? In theory players could play their club netball in Australia and still represent their country, but losing good players from local competion will affect pathway development and create complications (and expense) in national team development. Is creating a competitive international club environment  good for the development of netball internationally, or will it harm the cooperative culture? Is there enough money to create a meaningful market as we see in football, rugby, cricket etc., or will it damage player and competition development?

We are seeing big changes in netball, the biggest changes since the development of the ANZ Championship. Jennie Wylie has a big job ahead, but with a supportive board and the strength of the netball community, the sport should evolve successfully.

Russian athletes guilty until proven innocent – reasonable or a travesty of justice?

Russian athletes guilty until proven innocent – reasonable or a travesty of justice?

WADA, the IAAF and the IOC are united that Russian athletes should, by default, be banned from competing at the Rio Olympics.
IOC president Thomas Bach says proven, clean,  Russian athletes could take part under their own flag.
IAAF says that on an ‘exceptional basis’, clean athletes can compete as neutrals.
WADA also agrees with athletes competing on an exception-only basis, but believes they should be able to compete under their own nations flag.
Valerie Adams says ‘no way’ to Russian athletes and you wouldn’t mess with her! She, possibly more than anyone has been directly affected by drug cheats, although it was a Belarussian that cheated her out of gold in London.
A report commissioned by WADA and a German documentary provide compelling evidence that there has been state-supported doping, possibly to the point of altering test results – clearly there are issues that can’t be denied. The Russians claim that with their administrative changes, these issue are being addressed.
A wee funny, the Russian government have appointed Putin to manage the fallout with the international community –  a bit like asking the lion to negotiate with the zebras!

Should all athletes from one country be punished for the sins of some and the clear wrong-doings of their administration? Is it reasonable that proven drug cheats from the past can compete when known, innocent athletes are banned?

Do the various organisations have the right view, let the athletes back on a case-by-case basis when proven clean? How will this work in practice – IAAF say that do not have the ability to test everyone comprehensively? Pass one test and you’re in? Does this make a mockery of the ban and just suggest  an IAAF power play?

Surely those that do qualify should be able to compete under their national flag. IAAF administrators appear to have forgotten that the sport is about the athletes, not the organisations and their politics. 

The IOC claim any Russian athletes must be ‘[a member] of the team of the Russian Olympic Committee because only a national Olympic committee can enter athletes… there are no teams of international federations’. Politics with the IAAF?, or has the IOC just forgotten there is a team of refugees from different countries competing under the Olympic flag?

The WADA  head says that there is need for a ‘cultural change’ in Russia. Is separation and banishment the answer?

Andoora, Argentina, Bolivia and Ukraine have all been declared non-compliant in their testing, why can they  still compete? Kenya has been put under the same regime as Russia by the IOC, although this is claimed to be due to a lack of testing facility in Kenya, rather than systematic doping.

Does this raise the question that all international testing should be under the control of WADA? Give them some real teeth as they struggle for relevance at times.

The Olympics are founded on the concept of international unity, does this decision put justice over tradition as some have suggested?

Why represent your country in sport?

Why represent your country in sport?

​There have been a number of recent examples of sports people opting out of international sports. The reasons cited vary, but the outcome is the same, the countries don’t have their best people representing them in sporting endeavours. Messi claims he is tired of Argentina losing (a true winner?), various golfers pulling out of the Rio Olympics on the back of the Zika virus (why is it just golfers?), Chris Gayle opting for the T20 circus (money and flash over national pride, or was he pushed? – ditto Kevin Peterson), NZ’s Brendon McCullum (clearly fit enough for T20), various rugby players – Charles Piutau and Nick Evans spring to mind (Euros and the overseas experience, fair enough?).

In professional team sports, has the interntational team just become another ‘brand’ to play for? Another contract to negotiate? Does it hold any extra ‘value’ over the cash and leverage?
Messi is interesting, international football has managed to keep the top players involved in the top tournaments, is this the start of a change? Is he really just a bad loser? Is it because of the shambles of Argentinian international football? 
Golfers fears of Zika, seems fair enough, are we just hearing more about golfers pulling out rather than other sports people? Golfers and tennis players regularly pull out of the Olympics, it is clearly optional in their views. Not enough money in it? Should a sport be at the Olympics when the top players don’t view the Olympics and country representation as the pinnacle? These sports have long established, prestigious (and well paid) gala events. It is a shame that the Olympics is so desperate to have them!
Cricket is about the money, but surely they can still squeeze in the odd international? Who wouldn’t want BMac back in the NZ T20 team? West Indies cricket is awash with play-for-pay players and appears in shambles with rumours of breaking up the individual island nations. Kevin Peterson has issues, but was he really pushed for the sake of team culture, believable – he seems to genuinely want to play for England, unlike McCullum?
Rugby as with cricket is clearly about the money, but then NZRugby policy (a blog entry in itself) and the lack of an international window don’t help. Many players either exit the international game early, or give up on possible All Black selection. Is this just the expected case of money and an OE for young people? If we looked at data from the amateur era would we actually find the same thing, young men (in the case of rugby) choosing travel and career over national representation?
Is money any more of a reason in professional than in amateur sports (now and in the past) in which sports people have to choose between training and performing, and making money? How many potential sports people did we not see?
Why bother with the Olympics as a pinnacle national representative competition for sports that have well established top tournaments?  
Do sports where club competition is considered to be at a higher competitive level than international (rugby league, basketball) or at least over hyped (ice hockey, baseball) need internationals? Players appear to enjoy the international experience with what appears to be a dose of nostaligia and duty at times.
Sports that competitors represent a country and a brand so dramatically – F1, Americas Cup (AC,now that deserves some questioning in its own right) – do we really need country representation? Do these sports people really consider that they are representing their country – England or Mercedes, Australia or Red Bull, New Zealand or Emirates? Do we maintain the quasi-country representation because it helps with sponsorship and broadcast deals?  

In the world of professional sport it would seem your country is at risk of becoming just another brand and money talks at the end of the day.

Brexit – good or bad for sport (focus on England, Britain, UK)?

Brexit – good or bad for sport (focus on England, Britain, UK)?

The British people have spoken and, by a slim majority (so close the TV umpire/third umpire would have ruled ‘not out’ using the hawkeye system) have chosen to say arrivederci, au revoir, adios, auf wiedersehen and good bye in 23 other languages to the European Union. An economic and political union for sure, but for many Europeans a common sense of identity, enabling past “indiscretions” to be moved on from and a vision of the future based on a common cultural identity… and no more wars! Some are hoping it is just round one, but my guess is this is game, set and match. So, what does this mean for sport, with an emphasis on British sport.

Football players from the EU have had the freedom to play in the lucrative EPL (around 100ish) and including the first and second division of English and Scottish football there are more than 400 EU players. Will Brexit result in EU players being treated like non-EU players? In this case, to be eligible for a work permit, the player must have played a percentage of games for their national team, the lower ranked the team, the higher percentage of games required. Will this have a positive affect on the chances for South American, Asian and African players? Will it have an impact on the quality of the EPL and/or sponsorship value and all the follow-on affects?

One benefit of the current EU rule is that academy / age-group level players from Europe have ready access to the EPL academy programmes. If this was gone, what impact would it have on the development of football in European countries?

Will there be a short-term impact on EPL teams signing EU players given all the current uncertainty?
But, then this would presumambly mean more British players in British football. Will this provide long term benefit to both grassroots and international British football? Will it improve English and Scottish international football, certainly England could do with some help?

The Kolpak agreement is an EU agreement that allows The African, Carribean and Pacific Group of States (http://www.acp.int/content/secretariat-acp) to enjoy the same access previlieges as EU players do to EU professional sport. Regardless of any immigration laws, the UK would no longer be a party to this agreement. What impact on English cricket, think Strauss and Petersen? Perhaps NZ and Oz will get a few more? Impact on West Indies cricket, they need all the help in test cricket they can get and access to English county cricket is hugely beneficial? Samoan, Fijian and Tongan rugby? Perhaps NZ and Australian Rugby can now stand up and take some responsibility!?

What impact does the falling value of the pound have on the attractiveness of transfer fees and prize money(Tennis, Golf etc.)? At the top end the numbers are silly money anyway, but what about the bottom, will it be material?

The European Golf Tour says it is OK to have British players in the Ryder Cup team (they would hardly say no to McIlroy anyway, would they!), but playing under the EU Flag minus one star, a bit odd? Maybe a chance for a new European flag for when we include Britain (NZ might have a spare one or two examples to try)? Not to mention the European Tour is based in Surrey, a problem for the future?

Will Andy Murray still be happy to play under British Tennis (Lawn Tennis Association) given the Scottish position on the vote? Rory McIlroy plays under Northern Ireland anyway, so safe for now… or will it just become Ireland in the near future? Sinn Fein seem to think so.

Is there a good deal to be had buying into an EPL team today – price has probably dropped, but realistically the brands are still powerful?

How safe are the Gibraltar-based bookmakers? Spain is already making a noise.

Beckham v. Botham, beauty versus the Beef, youth v. age, bending v. bashing. Perhaps, instead of a second referendum, we just put the two of them in the ring and let them go 10 rounds, who would win?