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Tuesday, December 06, 2005


Strange birds: Kiwis who hate rugby

Tuesday, December 6, 2005

They are portrayed as obsessed about rugby, but a survey has found that a third of New Zealanders have no interest in the sport while some, as Anthony Hubbard explains, despise the game and resent its grip on Kiwi culture.

Last month, when New Zealand became the host of the 2011 World Cup, former All Black Sean Fitzpatrick said: "There are four million people in New Zealand and every one of them feels they have a share of the All Blacks."

Sports Minister Trevor Mallard said: "Our passion for rugby and sport is part of being Kiwi, and being proud to be Kiwi."
Rugby Union chairman Jock Hobbs said: "New Zealanders are passionate about their rugby ... we are a stadium of four million people!"
This is nonsense - and provably so. About one in three New Zealanders - 32 per cent - have little or no interest in rugby, according to an April poll by UMR Insight.
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The poll found 68 per cent, or about two out of three, were either very interested or fairly interested.

Based on these figures, at least 1.3 million people are outside the stadium. And the figure is probably bigger nearly a third of New Zealanders - 31 per cent - are just "fairly interested".
Presumably, then, these hundreds of thousands of New Zealanders don't feel they have a share of the All Blacks either. But they might fairly claim they are Kiwis, even proud ones.

Amid the hype and gush over the World Cup, it is good to remember these statistics. It helps to inure us against the marketing juggernaut that is trying to make rugby-going a patriotic duty.
It is precisely the marketing hype, and the ridiculous claim that to be Kiwi is to be a rugby-lover, that adds to the dissidents' fury.

Some - I am one - are not only indifferent to rugby but hostile to it. The current nonsense only makes us hate it more.

The UMR Insight poll, of 750 people with a margin of error of 3.6 per cent, has been running since 1993. It shows that throughout that time there has been a substantial number of New Zealanders not interested in rugby.

The lowest point this dissident group has ever reached in that time was 20 per cent, in November 2003. Even when rugby fever was at its height, one in five New Zealanders did not care about the game.

People dislike rugby for the same reasons they always have disliked it - its violence and its celebration of male aggression; the dopey, hard-drinking rugby culture; its mindless machismo.
"There are many people who can't stand the game," says Unitec New Zealand sports sociologist Rex Thomson.

"I was a rugby player and I coached for 25 years, so I've been with the game for over half my life - and I'm very aware of the problems the game has had and perhaps still has. I can understand why some people can't stand it."

One of the major problems, he says, is its link with booze and boozing.
"It was described in its early years in England as being the twin sister of the drinking system. The two have been absolutely intertwined throughout their history, and for many decades much of the sponsorship of the game until TV came in came from the breweries."

The New Zealand Rugby Union would have us believe that the culture of boozing has changed. The truth keeps leaking out. Former All Blacks captain Anton Oliver's biography in July revealed the secret once again. A team-bonding session in 2001, for instance, left some players so plastered the team could barely defeat Argentina: "I thought, 'We are teaching them that this is what it is to be an All Black, to drink a lot of booze."'

But things have changed since then, the rugby-boosters say. Really? Last month the Sunday Star-Times revealed that a group of All Blacks went on an all-night drinking binge in Britain.
Then there's the violence. Former All Blacks captain David Kirk described this aspect of the game with refreshing honesty in his 1997 book Black and Blue.

"One of the first things to understand about rugby is that it is a violent game," he wrote. "Sometimes it is extremely violent. While violence isn't the point (as it is in boxing or, say, hurling) it is integral to the game. You can't play well without suffering it, or being prepared to administer it.
"I'd go so far as to say that the team who can control their violence and apply it most effectively is the team that is likely to win."

Canadian sports sociologist Jay Scherer, now at the University of Alberta after spending five years at Otago University's physical education faculty, says rugby celebrates violence.
"Violence is the point. It is a fundamental or integral part of how the game is played. It is normalised and reinforced and celebrated and glorified in the media and through reinforcement from peers and coaches and role models.

"I mean, what is the famous quote from George Orwell? 'Sport is war minus the shooting.' And rugby is the most glorified warrior-like sport there is in New Zealand, obviously along with rugby league."
Scherer likes watching the game, just as he likes Canadian ice-hockey, an even more violent sport. "You know, rugby can be a very beautiful game to watch at times. Conversely it can also be a very brutal and thuggish game."
But sometimes he wonders about his own motivation for watching. "To me, it's very easy to trace the development of modern sport from those early gladiatorial spectacles, and particularly men's sport... "

There is a juggernaut of rugby boosterism at work right now, says Scherer. A great deal of money is at stake, and the marketers want to drown out any critical voices. Powerful forces are there to help. Many in the news media, he says, are part of the cheerleading chorus.
At the same time, the critical voice sometimes does get heard. In rugby-mad Dunedin - his former town - there is angry opposition to the idea that rates should be spent on the expensive refurbishment of the Carisbrook stadium.

The marketers have tried to spread the appeal of rugby, especially to women. But the gap between male and female attitudes remains notable. The UMR April poll found that 37 per cent of females had little or no interest, while only 26 per cent of males felt that way.
Rugby is perhaps more dominant in New Zealand culture than it has ever been. The reason: money and marketing. "Professionalism has brought the game into everyone's home. It's there all the time," says Thomson.

The rugby boosters like to promote rugby now as a much more sophisticated thing. The dominant figure is the dreadlocked Samoan Tana Umaga. In former times the icon was Colin Meads, a tough, taciturn farmer with right-wing views and a passion for tours of South Africa. There is a growing women's rugby movement. There are even gay rugby teams.
And for some, clearly, the heart of the game remains as black as ever: violent, macho, gladiatorial. Despite the government propaganda and the millions spent on marketing, despite the media circus and the conspicuous public enthusiasm of self-styled liberals, a third of New Zealanders still say "no" to the national game.

Sunday Star-Times, New Zealand
Uhmmm so how do I "contribute" an original message Ras?  
Ras, this is a brilliant post, some ammonition for the Black-guard hunters

Koos- you still owe me a story as well
Well if you take the South Africans livng there out of the equation, I wonder if even half of the people support the game.

Just look back at the Dunedin test. A day before the test and still 7000 tickets available out of how many ? 30,000?
Hey, they can have our sports minister......  
So Ras

When are you posting this on the Silver fern?
And even with so few resources and a THIRD of our country not interested in rugby we are still the best team in the world

The Boks with 40 million people in South Africa can never come near New Zealand for performance. It is the New Zealand way. That is why we won the Americas Cup too.

Even the Swiss team who won the Americas Cup was a team skippered by a Kiwi.
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