Auckland, New Zealand – 7 May 2010
Kia Ora from New Zealand! Many times in this small island nation of 4 million people we heard the expression that New Zealand “punches above its weight” when it comes to sporting achievement. And it’s true.
Most people will associate New Zealand with its national passion of rugby, which indeed dominates the sport scene. The national team is the All Blacks, which have one of the highest winning/success rates in any team in sport, and are always a feared opponent on the rugby pitch. This is felt even more when they perform the inspiring war chant — the “Haka” — at the beginning of every match. Check out this funny YOUTUBE VIDEO we filmed at the rugby museum in Palmerston North.
The biggest news in rugby right now is that the country is set to host the IRB Rugby World Cup in 2011. While only a small country, its rugby culture runs deep and the country has many top facilities, which makes it an ideal place to host the tournament. The Rugby World Cup is getting so much public support that one of the tournament taglines says New Zealand will be a “Stadium of 4 Million People”. Why Sport Matters was able to speak with a few people in the rugby community, and even caught up with the actual trophy during its world tour (see photo).
Rugby can be seen everywhere, and is played from the professional level to the amateur, right down to the youth level, and includes both rugby union and rugby league (a slightly different version with only 11 players per side). Five New Zealand teams play in the professional league called the Super 14, which is a unique league made of teams from NZ, Australia and South Africa. In addition, NZ has one team playing in the top professional division in Australia in rugby league. For more explanation on rugby, check out this YOUTUBE VIDEO we shot on a very windy day in Wellington.
The culture and identity in New Zealand is closely linked to its native indigenous Maori population, a Pacific island race of people. The country seamlessly integrates the Maori culture on many levels but it is especially strong in the sport community. The Haka is based on Maori words and customs, and if you have ever seen the New Zealand Olympic team enter the opening ceremony, the flag bearer wears a traditional Maori cloak (see photo taken with Olympic Maori expert Trevor Shailer).
New Zealand has a huge success in the Olympics considering its small population and isolation to the rest of the world. In fact, the Olympics hold a special place in NZ culture, and Olympic stars are true heroes. Why Sport Matters visited the NZ Olympic Committee offices and were pleasantly surprised to see how the Olympic values were being nurtured in the country, with an impressive museum, and active education programme and studies centre. See photo with Barry Maister who spoke to Why Sport Matters about his experience as the General Secretary and newly-elected IOC member.
The hottest topic in sport however is football, with the New Zealand national team (known as the All-Whites) having qualified for the FIFA World Cup for the first time since 1982, and the country is rallying around the team. While still an underdog, one should never underestimate a NZ sport team. Why Sport Matters spent a few days at the training site in Auckland (see photo), then met the team again in Melbourne for their warm-up match against Australia.
The popularity of football has been a great success story in New Zealand. As FIFA’s decision to move Australia to the Asian confederation, this left NZ as the powerhouse in the Oceania region. The All-Whites qualified in a playoff with Bahrain for a spot in SA 2010, and the 2nd leg of that series in Wellington last year was one of the best sporting moments in NZ history. On the club level, one team from NZ (Wellington Phoenix) participates in Australia’s professional A-League – as New Zealand does not have its own pro league. Another success story, the Phoenix finished 3rd in this previous season, and sees huge crowds for its home games.
The women also have an equal place in NZ sport, especially in netball (a cross between basketball and team handball). There is a professional league with decent crowds at the arenas, and can be seen regularly on TV.
Due to its outdoor lifestyle and lots of open spaces for play, NZ is a naturally good place to practice in sport. And New Zealanders (otherwise known as Kiwis) participate in a surprising wide breadth of different sports, while health and education remain top priorities for public policy and budgets.
We can’t forget as well that New Zealand is a mecca for tourists, especially adventure sport enthusiasts. Places like Queensland on the south island are famous for its range of outdoor activities and high adrenalin extreme sports. At Lake Taupo on the north island, Why Sport Matters was there to test out one of the world’s best places to bungy jump with an actual water touch. Check out this YOUTUBE VIDEO of our experience.
Thanks goes out to everyone at the New Zealand Olympic Committee, Trevor Shailer, Tony Pignata, Rugby World Cup 2011, New Zealand Rugby Union, Roger and Marcus at Wellington College, Clive Akers at the Rugby Museum in Palmerston North, the New Zealand Football Federation, Olympic swimmer Dean Kent, and Malani and her housemates in Auckland. And a special appreciation of course to Kit and Anne-Louise for a great week in Wellington (see photo).
The next stop for Why Sport Matters is Australia, to be followed by a return to South Africa and the World Cup 2010. See the TRAVEL SCHEDULE for more info, and don’t forget to check out our dedicated pages on: