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Sport, 1940-1960

Page 1 – Introduction

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War and sport

During the Second World War sporting activity declined. International competition virtually ceased – the Tokyo Olympics and the All Black rugby tour of South Africa scheduled for 1940 were among the first casualties – except for services sport. Ferocious rugby matches were played against South African allies during the North African desert campaign. Most interprovincial contests were suspended because so many players were overseas, and because petrol rationing made travel difficult. There were some sporting benefits from the war: American servicemen greatly boosted softball and indoor basketball.

Rugby in the 1950s

Post-war celebrations included the triumphant tour of the New Zealand Army Kiwis, who delighted British crowds with their exhilarating rugby. This was a false dawn: rugby’s new style was set by the unsuccessful 1949 tour of South Africa, which led to an emphasis on forward domination that was to blight the sport and have wider social consequences. As manliness was increasingly associated with physical toughness and aggression on the playing field, many early baby-boom males became as emotionally hardened as their servicemen fathers had needed to be. Nevertheless, some notable players emerged in the 1950s, including Ron Jarden, one of the greatest All Black wing three-quarters.

Sporting ties with South Africa

Most New Zealanders preferred to ignore the wider issues at stake in competing with a racially segregated country which demanded that Māori be excluded from touring teams. Among those left out of the 1949 team which toured South Africa were All Blacks Johnny Smith and Ben Couch (later Minister of Maori Affairs).

How to cite this page

Sport in New Zealand 1940-1960, URL:, (Manatū Taonga — Ministry for Culture and Heritage), updated