Rugby doesn’t deserve to be New Zealand’s national sport, equality or not

Is rugby New Zealand’s national sport? A few decades ago it was the dominant sport, but the diversity of sporting codes and much wider preferences have changed that a lot.

I grew up loving rugby. I played and then refereed and then played again until I was about 42 or so.  There was a time that I felt like I was really missing out on something if I missed seeing a test match live on TV.

But now there is so much rugby, and so much sport, I usually don’t care much whether I see tests or not.

Back to whether it can be called New Zealand’s ‘national sport’. I don’t think the term really means very much.

For different reasons Jacinda Ardern seems to think that rugby doesn’t deserve to be our national sport.

RNZ:  Rugby needs to be more inclusive to ‘deserve’ title of national sport – PM

Rugby needs to be more inclusive, particularly of women, to be fully deserving of the title of New Zealand’s national sport, the Prime Minister says.

Talking to a packed conference room at New Zealand Rugby’s first ever Women in Governance Conference in central Auckland this morning, Jacinda Ardern said rugby needs to “be a game for everyone, and that includes women”.

“For me if rugby is going to include us as women it should represent us equally, and have a relationship with us equally, both as players and spectators, and that means, as it does with every area of life, including women fairly, giving women the opportunity to excel, paying them appropriately, and providing leadership opportunities,” Ms Ardern said.

Ms Ardern said, when asked for clarification, she believed rugby does currently deserve to be called New Zealand’s national sport, ” but with that title we need to make sure we’re striving to lift the outcomes for women in sport as well”.

Quite a confusing message there.

“If rugby is going to include us as women it should represent us equally” – what? I have no idea how that could happen, let alone be measured.

“Have a relationship with us equally” – that’s just nuts. Every one of us should be able to decide for ourselves what sort of ‘relationship” we have with rugby or with any sport. Equal relationships can’t be defined let alone forced on us.

Some people simply don’t like rugby – people even say they hate it. That’s their choice. It would be ridiculous expecting them to have an ‘equal’ relationship with any sport to everyone else.

She was at the conference, articulating her vision for sporting gender equality, ahead of the Black Ferns and All Blacks double header against Australia at Eden Park tonight.

They can’t both play at an equal time.

They can’t be given equal games – there are far more men’s national teams, it’s a much stronger sport. I don’t expect men’s netball to be given equal money or coverage or prominence as women’s netball.

I’m all for giving more prominence to women’s rugby (and more money and resources to players). I enjoy watching women’s 15-a-side, and especially women’s sevens. I enjoy the latter at least as much as men’s sevens (but can’t say if that’s equal or not, it depends on each performance).

I think I get what Ardern is angling at, but for me “if rugby is going to include us as women it should represent us equally, and have a relationship with us equally” is just garbled nonsense.

However I don’t think we are risk of being forced to watch equal amounts of women’s and men’s rugby and promising to clap and cheer equally.