It's more than just a game

Tēnā tātou te iwi. As the build up to this years Rugby World Cup intensifies I thought I would draw your attention to an anniversary from New Zealand history that occurs this week. It is possible that this event might just slip under the radar as we focus more on whether the All Blacks will finally bring home our first world cup since 1987 (the last time we hosted it ). This week marks 51 years since the 1960 All Blacks toured South Africa. This might not seem particularly newsworthy given the frequency with which the All Blacks and Springboks play each other in the modern era. Matches against the old foe are an annual event now and this familiarity has maybe seen some of the gloss taken off what were once matches that could literally stop both nations. But the 1960 team to conform with South Africa's apartheid laws excluded any Māori players from selection. Māori have had a special place in rugby in this country since the Natives' Rugby Tour, 1888-89 and the New Zealand Māori team has a unique place not only here but in international rugby but in 1960 rather than embarass or offend our hosts we simply decided not to select any Māori. Close to 160,000 people signed a petition − one of the largest in New Zealand history − opposing the tour, arguing against the selection of what amounted to an ‘all white All Blacks’ team. Groups like the Citizens’ All Black Tour Association campaigned with the slogan, ‘No Maoris − No Tour’. Others argued that politics had no place in sport. In the end, the Wilson Whineray-led team left for South Africa as planned. The place of rugby in our society was brought into sharp focus by this event and the issue of whether to continue sporting contacts with South Africa spilled over into violence during the highly controversial Springbok tour of 1981 in which the nation was bitterly divided. In thinking of ways of incorporating this year's Rugby World Cup into your teaching programme this issue is an obvious one for many history and social studies classes.

Leaving the political ramifications to one side rugby has been an important part of life on a local and regional level. Thousands of children and their families take to forsty and muddy fields all over the country most Saturday mornings. The passion and parochialism of provincial rugby has helped to give the game a special place in New Zealand’s social and sporting history. Epic Ranfurly Shield encounters have become part of local folklore as have some of the players to wear their local colours with pride. Our regional rugby feature looks at rugby in this country in the broadest sense while also giving each provincial union it's place in the sun. There are endless possibilites here for local research and study.

This year's Rugby World Cup gives us the opportunity to consider the impact of rugby on our past and to consider, warts and all, its role in shaping our society. How has rugby really shaped and influenced us as a people or in terms of our identity? Whether you love or loathe rugby it's impact on our society can't be denied and for many rugby has been more than just a game.

Tēnā koutou katoa


Post your response here