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October 9, 2006 | by  | in Opinion |
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Land of the Long Yellow Belly…?

I tilted my head upwards, cocked an eyebrow and asked the gentleman to repeat himself, to which he was more than happy to oblige: “Your country’s fucking shit at sports! Just admit it; you’re fucking shit at sports! There isn’t a fucking country in the world that’s as bad as sports as you fucking faggots are. Fuck, New Zealand sport is just fucking shit!”

Oh, the joys of being introduced as something of a “sports fanatic” to an intoxicated Aussie with barely enough brain cells to power a Hot Wheels toy. I should’ve known from the crooked grin that took hold of his sagging, droop of a face that I wasn’t going to be in for an intellectually stimulating discussion about, say, the upcoming rugby league tri-series or the not-too-distant Chappell-Hadlee trophy. No, dear reader, here I was standing there; silver fern etched into the part of my soul that houses ‘national pride’; mind alternating between verbal smackdown and pinching those flabby play-doughesque cheeks; and feeling the mercury rise with the overwhelming urge to lay to waste all thoughts of New Zealand suckage. I needed to accumulate some thoughts, so, I took a breath and began to think…

As a nation, our devotion to sport is unmistakable. We are competitive at a world-class level over a number of different fields, and indeed, enjoying a bevy of success in some of them. To immediately cast New Zealand to the doldrums of sporting failure (as this delightful specimen of dignity and class did) because we haven’t hosted an Olympics, or indeed have a Shane Warne who can (and I quote), “Spin some fucking real prickers that normal fucks can’t hit!” I implore New Zealand sports fanatics to marvel at our country’s surprisingly rich sporting success, when there are numerous factors that suggest we shouldn’t be near the rest of the world on any level of competition.

For example, let’s examine some stats (while our protagonist thinks of a way to verbally shatter his loud-mouthed Australian adversary):

New Zealand has a population of a shade over 4 million, and this is split relatively equally amongst males and females. 66.4% of the population are aged between 15 and 64, and given the average retirement age for a professional sportsman is 32, we can rather cheekily assume that half of those counted in that age bracket aren’t participating in sport. So, let’s say that 1.3 million New Zealanders are of the age in which they can participate in sport – and, naturally, not everybody will be. In fact, according to the Hillary Commission: “Almost 4 out of 10 adults are members of a club or gym and 2 out of 10 adults belong to a sports club. A lot more men (29%) belong to sports clubs than women (16%).”

The upshot of all this is quite simple: we’re not dealing with huge numbers here. If we were to take the Hillary Commission’s word to heart, the conclusion would be that a shade over 200,000 New Zealanders are members of competitive sports clubs nationwide (that’s not even taking into account those who are merely members and not active participants; the numbers are smaller than we think). Seems like a reasonable sample. It’s more than the population of Palmerston North, at least, which is the go-to city for all population comparisons, since there’s nothing else worth comparing Palmerston North to anyway. But let’s split that number out over the dozens of sports New Zealand competes in on an international level. Like George Costanza in a freezing-cold pool, we’re gettin’ some serious shrinkage here, and still, with a turn-up comparable to an Andy Williams concert on a world scale, we’re ridiculously competitive.

Here’s a few more little pearls of wisdom: New Zealand is currently the #1 ranked international rugby side in the world (according to the IRB’s game-by-game rankings system); this year’s Super 14 final pitted two New Zealand teams against each other; we are the current Rugby League Tri-series champions; our netballers are the current world champions; a New Zealand golfer won not only the 2005 US golf open, but the 2005 world match-play championship as well; gold & silver in the Olympic men’s triathlon; numerous world championships and top-three finishes in rowing; a half-decent one-day cricket side (we’re pretty good at home, you’ve got to admit); a gold-medallist and current worldrecord holder in Sarah Ulmer… and the list quite literally goes on and on.

Where we do slip in our drool, is in the financial game; our world-class sporting stars rely heavily on the kindness of sponsors, of which a great deal come from offshore. Even our beloved All Blacks are propped up by German sporting apparel giant Adidas, and ‘Emirates’ Team New Zealand” speaks for itself. Other countries, including the folks across the ditch, enjoy a more plentiful financial buffet within their halls of sport. One might argue that the only thing keeping, say, Daniel Carter from upping sticks and chasing the almighty pound is the stark fact he’d be ineligible for the All Blacks if he did. We can’t compete with the oversised-novelty chequebooks of other nations, but by the grace of all that’s good, holy and Edmund Hillary-esque, we can compete, and we compete well.

So, with a gaze best suited to the face of Alan Shore than, say, me, I patted my condescending Australian compadre on the shoulder, and whispered a few sweet nothings in his ear: “Super 14, Tri-Nations, Bledisloe Cup, Netball world champions, and Benji Marshall’s one of us too, sweetie.”

Dare I say: “Zing”?

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Kia ora, biography box, kia ora.

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