The World is Turning Black…

How-to-Watch-Rugby-World-Cup-2015-free-live-online-VPN-DNS-ProxyBet you didn’t know it  but the World – yes  the World – is turning Black.  Must be true ‘cos  the NZ Herald says.  And before that it said the All Blacks were taking on… the World, although in this case it’s a limited edition World of 20 countries playing in the Cup.

Turns out that the World is turning Black because most internet searches on teams playing in London are for the ABs. And that in the media orgasms over the All Blacks, is enough to turn it into a page one lead.

Never mind that the day before, the free-marketers of Government caved and made an embarrassing flip-flop over foreign investment in the iconic Lochinver estate. Never mind that the real issues remain out there largely uncovered. Reading the paper, it seems as if  politics and serious societal issues have virtually been cleansed from the Herald’s slate.

Our free trial of the paper for a month was about to end last week when a call came, asking if we wanted the rag delivered regularly. The answer was no.

“Can we ask why for feedback?” said the caller politely.

Deep breath. How could I tell her that marketing had displaced editorial and it showed on every page? That there were no roundsmen or women covering beats; that the paper was stuffed with diversions and shorn of political reporting on a local or national basis; that it didn’t cover the big issues confronting our land and our society; that courts and Council were not covered in any consistent way as they once were; that the art of newspapering involves fine writing in reporting and there was none to be found – except in letters to the editor; that this was always a Tory rag but one which once had exceptionally high standards of journalism. All of it is vital for an informed society.

How to tell her all that. After a month’s free subscription? Easy.   But it’s not just the Herald at fault here. With the exception of Radio New Zealand – which must be the Government’s next media target – it’s as if serious content has been stripped from most news media.

And so we get this media circus surrounding the Rugby World Cup and the ABs and it’s driving some people crazy.   One of my friends is a rugby devotee and is now almost apoplectic about the diet of drivel on the All Blacks.

It’s understandable.  We saw them selected, saw them at Parliament, saw them assemble, saw them prepared for take-off,   saw them in mid air, viewed them after touchdown in London and at every possible opportunity afterwards.   It’s the kind of adulation which was once reserved for early royal tours, and comes with battle cry slogans and triumphalist headlines. All this before a single game has been played.

What happens when the national team – sorry ‘brand’ – is commodified? It diminishes the both team and its cultural accompaniment – the haka.  Once, this spectacle sent shivers down the backs of supporters and possibly their opponents.  Now the Poms are mocking it.

Rugby is our national game and if the ABs win (or lose) its future at the top seems guaranteed. But what do the stats say about our involvement in sports?   The Sport NZ 2013-2014 Sport and Recreation Survey showed new trends in recreational activity.

‘Participants tell us they’re interested in trying a diverse range of new sports rather than doing more of the same’ wrote CEO Peter Miskimmin in a preface to the report. Traditional sports club membership is down slightly, while gym membership is up.”

The results for rugby were surprising. In the ten sports for 16-24 year old men, the Survey found that the top three activities were walking, swimming and jogging/running. Football came in at ninth with 75,000 playing. Rugby didn’t feature.

In the 20 most popular sports by gender,   more men played football than rugby. Football was ninth with 167,000 players; Touch rugby was 13th with 116,000, rugby came in at 16th place with 109,000 players…It seems inconceivable, but could the round ball displace the egg-shaped one in the public mind?

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Paul Smith

Paul is a veteran journalist, non-fiction author and writing mentor. He has also served on boards ranging from TVNZ to UNESCO.