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Footy, fairness and reasonably differing views

Richard

Competition and striving for excellence is an important part of a person’s development.  So too, is the ability to socialise.  Are they mutually exclusive? One person's fun is another's dreary monotony. When a focus on “fun” as the optimal measure and only measure, how should athletes with elite or potentially elite minds, hearts and ambitions develop? Is the aim a level playing field? But what about talented athletes who thrive on competition and who may suffer through lack of competition.  Iron sharpens iron. 

There seemed to be little widespread discussion in the North Harbour Rugby community of 2019 about two differing sides to the one Rugby participation coin. The seemingly unilateral cancellation of young players’ participation in the Roller Mills tournament.

I love my rugby, but also league and playing and watching (live only) AFL.  I have written about this passion: Amateur sport and the Charities Act [2009] NZLJ 65:

“Rugby, traditionally regarded as New Zealand’s national game, is itself an example of drastic change. The contractual payment of players changed around ten years after Heron J heard Nelson College v Attorney-General (HC, Nelson M 40/86, 1 December 1986) and noted that “the rules relating to amateurism and applied by the New Zealand Rugby Football Union complicate the payment of persons …”…

….

What appears to remain constant is the societal attitude to rugby union at its highest level. As Heron J felt in Nelson College (when following precedent the Re Marriette [1915] 2 Ch 284 line of authority later followed by Kearins v Kearins) “I imagine, any finding that teaching one aspect of rugby football is to be regarded as part of a New Zealand boy’s education would not draw much surprise”. What is so different now is the element of “conferment of personal advantage” in professionalism. The largely amateur rugby clubs at local level (targeted by the Charities Commission, in whichever sporting code) are perhaps not faring as well.”

By the first whistle of the 2011 Rugby World Cup, there may be several rugby clubs registered as charitable entities. In the author’s view, any bold steps forward (beyond local level) would require rigorous examination from a tax, rating and gift duty perspective to support any social policy initiatives. Entities established for events of special national importance may be most likely to find judicial favour (or special legislation) in the medium term.□

Dave Gibson in 2019 was reported in the media for, on the face of it, stopping the involvement of Shore boys in such footy for good reasons, e.g.: “Junior representative rugby programme removed by North Harbour” by Harrison Christian (Feb 23 2019). I am strongly for the tournament, as a 40kg participant in 1988. I tried to see if two players could weigh and the average get taken. Not surprisingly the authorities would not have a bar of it.

The Mates Construction movement with the bustling Slade McFarland and others leading the mental health charge (e of the East Coast Bays RFC tuck shop) is awe-inspiring given the Dark Ages of yesteryear. Softening up is good - but all in due context. What about the lessons of standing up to the opposition, bonding, building morale and learning sportsmanship? To fire up, but at least your leaders having ice in their veins and minds. What about pressure and what about the good aspects of personal pride?

I am a little biased it may seem, as my piece follows - but, while there are two sides to every argument - the robust one in favour did not get a sounding board. Here is one version of it.

I recall being involved in Roller Mills as a player in the Auckland East Rugby Team in the 1988 tournament at Onewa Domain.  In my team were two others from King’s Prep and the first Pasifika players I had hitherto played with, some notable names amongst them: one Romi Ropati, one Pita Alatini (then a no.7), Andrew Aialeo, Kimbal Sialeipata, Matthew Marino and the best in team, Bill Solofa.  The tournament photo is the motif you pressed to access this opinion piece. 

Oh, we also had Teina Pora as a ferocious No.6 – him of miscarriage of justice notoriety.  His Dad John came to games, waistcoat patch inverted.  Teina missed a practice game with cuts from a knife fight, or so the boys heard. I hurt my hand so that my RAD grade 5 School of Music piano lessons suffered. Dad would patiently do 6 sets of coaching on the weekend and monitor us daily from a sound perspective. I scraped through that grade and promptly quit - sorry Val! (showing off there, but for dramatic effect). Ben Willis (later of the Chiefs), Scotty McGregor (my successful rival at AGS 1st XV and Grammar RFC) and others.

I actually lived up the road from the tournament in Torbay and I recall missing the pool play game versus Thames Valley because the bus I caught was late.  I shuddered when my Auckland East coach, Wally Edwards made us run on the field each game to the ghetto-blaster, “We are Auckland, Rugby, We know how to win…” That gave me PTSD, I am a Harbour fan and can almost tell you the Harbour team that turned out in 1986 v John Hart’s Auckland.  Midweek, I got the afternoon off school (Barbara Atkins, my teacher coached the Torbay Std 3 & 4 1985-1986 Rugby Team I skippered) and Dad took me.  Mike Te Paa locked before there was lifting in the lineout.  Buck and Frano played, Feeney, Kapa, Anscombe the skip.  Mark Anscombe was captain of my club, East Coast Bays.

At the speech day at Kings Prep that 1988, I gave copious Pacific greetings, Te Reo, the works.  Then I gave it both barrels in a dry, quiet way.  I pushed for scholarships and a fair opportunity for my Pasifika teammates and their whanau/ fanau/ siblings/ cousins in the future.  I did not make the quarters in the speeches.  My speech was restricted to the classroom, taught by a great teacher, Raewyn Roberts (see the entry about war poems in the shadow of the Ukraine war).  The Finals were in the hall, before the public and the Board of Governors.  It was just so unfair that the ability to pay school fees (or not) laid a path for a person’s future.  My family found it hard when Dad had a massive heart attack the year before – we were a one-income family and he was self-employed. 1987 was a mixed year – a good one for Rugby, a bad one for shares – and Her Majesty’s Theatre (after my big sister got to dance there before Princess Di).  John Taylor asked me if I was going to King’s College – no, my uncle, Dad and brother went to AGS, and so was I.  1988 and Roller Mills was better and I made the combined team with Auckland West.  Ron Peters, bigger brother of Winston coached us.   Dad later acted for and against Winston. He liked the Gold Card though. Canny Scot.

I was pleased that King’s later gave some good athletic scholarships out.  I do not know about academic ones, but the most mature player I ever played with was Bill Solofa, now of Brisbane. 

The last game of Rugby my Dad watched was AGS beating King’s away in 2020. I missed it, but he said it was a beauty.

It is a pity that North Harbour kids are no longer encouraged to learn how to tackle adversity from a young age: or at least literally in highly competitive sport like Roller Mills. So many lessons to learn.  Defence wins Championships – technique and a stout heart.  Efficient disposal not massive tackles, the ball, the ball, the ball. Get up and cover.  Help your mate.  Sounds like fun to me.  Virtus pollet…..and…per angusta ad augusta.

As the various items of litigation relating to rugby unfold worldwide – the above perspective straddles players in amateur and professional eras.  ACC, assumption of risk, contributory negligence (tackling technique) are all relevant in  New Zealand – but so is a quality of life.  Warriors are not always born that way, somehow, with sensitivity from parents, mentors and coaches they are usually made. Motivation and inclinations learned and honed.  Some of the bravest warriors never played combat sport.  Rosa Parks just sat in the ‘wrong’ seat.   

Otara and Remuera both in Auckland East?  Without Roller Mills I would not have known much about that.  My Church was white too: aptly named "St Mary's by the Sea". We had to wear shoes to church. I learned later that some do not have a choice like we did.  The Churches we go to now (same parishes or neighbouring ones, as before) are filled with members like licorice all sorts - vibrant colours and cultures. My nuclear family (gargle, spit, rinse for uranium - just in case) are a family of Presbyterian Dad, Roman Catholic Mum: surely we can work out rugby. The Presbyterian insisted on the Full Nuptial Mass too! I will keep Mum on how we got it.