Radio One‘s Breakfast Host Aaron Hawkins, one half of the Deadcast: Balls! collaboration, weighs in on our greatest All Black’s unfortunate tendency to reveal himself in public pronouncements as an unapologetic bigot.
The NZRU has never shied away from the straddling of Pro-Am values in the name of brand identification. What better way to sway rapidly galvanizing apathy towards the code’s top flight than a grainy illustration of Colin Meads playing his first Test at Carisbrook, urging you to buy tickets to what is billed as the venue’s ‘last ever’ Test match (thought the NZRU has said they will play the scheduled minnow matches at the 2011 World Cup there, so technically it is just the last All Blacks fixture). The House Of Pain – or House Of Taine as it was briefly and embarrassingly also known – is a victim of the professional era; the toilets and Press facilities don’t cut it on the international stage, and as a result a potentially city-bankrupting stadium is going up in its place. But that’s another argument entirely.
Appealing to traditionalism is one of the oldest tricks in the marketing playbook. The problem rugby really has is the Colonial and Apartheid baggage that comes with it. A quarter of a century after South Africa last competed at the Olympics, politicians in New Zealand were defending their racist touring parties to New Zealand. It was rednecks versus pinkos in a flour war for sport/politics supremacy. But we’ve all moved on. Mandela was freed, the ANC took over the government, and rugby gave itself a pat on the back for helping fix an appalling scenario it had aided and abetted for decades. Well done. Carry on.
It is hard work mining an appeal to the mud-in-your-eye, kick-and-ruck, long-tour, All-Blacks-with-day-jobs era without getting caught up in the uglier politics that drove much of it. Not just in the Republic, but also in the musty colonial exclusivity coming from the RFU in London and the class elitism that abounds internationally. But the players weren’t to blame, right? You can’t blame Colin Meads for South Africa treating their indigenous people worse than their animals, right?
Unfortunately for the NZRU, the place of Meads in the public consciousness as the standard-bearer for the rose-tinted glory days is a deliciously double-edged sword. The family-friendly folklore has to accommodate his grumpy old bastard nature. Whenever anything remotely interesting happens in rugby, inspired sports hacks everywhere dust off the M in their File-O-Fax and see what Pinetree has to say. Video referees? Disgrace. Paintings of Anton Oliver’s arse? Beyond (the) pale.
It doesn’t necessarily need to have anything to do with rugby or even financial investments for Colin’s opinion to give a rustic resonance to your puff piece. This weekend in the Sunday Star-Times (in the ‘Focus’ section, with a sizable editorial advert on Page 1), 50 prominent New Zealanders, and some SST (not to be confused with SST) readers, had the chance to put a single question to the Prime Minister. I could barely contain myself as I ran ahead to see the bland non-answers and deflections on matters of environmental and educational management, but nothing could prepare me for the greatness of Question One:
Sir Colin Meads, former All Black: “Do you think you are doing too much for the Maori people? Is it just to keep their vote?”
Take a minute to go back and read that again a few times. For added effect, it is worth tracking down the story in hard copy format to read it alongside the smug ruddiness of Sir Colin’s face. This is the cherished history we are celebrating: racist rural bigots clinging to some semblance of public importance, and that faded glory is begging you to pay an arm and a leg to see a night game in Dunedin in the middle of winter. I just really hope someone gets on to asking him to comment on the NZRU’s apology to Maori players excluded from selection.
Sir Colin Meads, former All Black: “Do you think you are doing too much for the Maori players? Is it just on behalf of liquor companies keen to harvest their binge drinking nature until at least the end of the 2011 Rugby World Cup?”
– Aaron Hawkins