A Sporting Chance by Trevor Plumbly

A Nation Obsessed by Sport

International image is pretty important to most countries, especially small ones, and New Zealand is certainly no different in its anxiety to scrub up for foreign approval. Superficially, we shine up pretty well: ‘Godzone’ and all that, a clean, green land occupied by smiling, tattooed Maoris, All Black rugby players and all manner of sportspeople gung-ho to show the world what a tiny country can achieve on the world stage. Medals and titles won are usually accompanied by an ‘against all odds’ reference to our somewhat sparse population. Sadly though, this burst of feel-good and national pride doesn’t extend to dealing with domestic violence; we proudly boast that we were first to give women the vote, but shy away from acknowledging that when it comes down to family violence, we’re practically gold medallists too.

Funding for Sport but not for Social Problems

We are, I guess, what folk would call ‘a sporting nation’, an expression I’ve always had problems with. Does it mean that we’re all over-imbued with the competitive spirit or that we place more emphasis on sporting prowess than we do on social injustices? Sadly I suspect the latter. Over the next few years the number of ‘world championships’ and ‘major sporting events’ will increase as will the demands for participant funding. Without belittling their efforts or achievements, how much do these high profile sportspeople actually cost us and how much do we get in return? The America’s Cup for example, an elitist, minority sport if ever there was one, is still awarded millions in funding that are justified in unqualified ‘tourist dollar’ predictions, while the Women’s Refuge organisation is just about forced to run around with the begging bowl. What on earth does an Olympic equestrian gold medal do for the unemployed in Northland or the poorly housed in South Auckland? It’s arguably unhealthy when a horse gets better funding and care than a struggling family. Then there’s the World Rugby Cup: the last one cost us $30 odd million to host and ultimately win, and we were assured it would put us on ‘The World Stage’. If it did, life hasn’t changed much as a result, especially for the less fortunate.

Failure to Deal with Domestic Abuse

Various governments have trimmed the budgets of Rape Crisis and Women’s Refuge whilst happily bankrolling celebrity-driven projects via tax breaks and other incentives, playing the promotional cards whilst ignoring the hand others are forced by circumstance to cope with. The recent introduction of the ‘anti-smacking’ legislation side-stepped a problem rather than addressing it: who in their right mind would believe that anyone prepared to bash an infant to death will be deterred by a law prohibiting a smack on the bum. Despite the fact that one in three women will experience some form of abuse in their relationship, spousal abuse rarely warrants a mention in the public forum; it seems that in a small respectable country, the best place for ugly is under the carpet. Because of this reluctance to acknowledge and publicise the extent of the problem, it will naturally continue, until we all realise that a ‘partner’s’ role shouldn’t involve being a punching bag for a drunken bully and that child abuse is a community problem, not a private family matter. Maybe if we spent a little less time and money lionising and subsidising people’s sporting deeds and channelled some of that effort into protecting the vulnerable, we could all learn something about the real weaknesses and strengths of our country and hey, we could all become winners!

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