Never had much of a rugby career- two years at high school was my lot. In the opening game of my third season, I knocked my head on an opponent’s knee and felt sick for about three days afterwards. That scared me, and also because of a fractured skull from a car accident as a young kid, I decided it wasn’t very sensible to continue playing.
I was comparatively slow for a wing and then as a fullback and probably not aggressive enough to go very far, but it didn’t, or doesn’t, matter. And it doesn’t matter either that I only had two years in a rugby team.
Because I wouldn’t trade those two years for anything. Putting the school’s royal blue jersey with the gold stripes over my head for the chance to challenge myself with some mates in a tough sport was a pride unlike any other. I love the feel of those proper old rugby jerseys, not like that figure hugging, lycra-looking off-shoot of a top that teams wear now. What is that abomination anyway? Never mind.
The point is that school rugby is all about community, mateship, a sense of worth, and mana. We could just throw in the towel, and say that since the day rugby turned professional in 1995 the ongoing situation of secondary schools creating sports scholarships to stack their team in the hope of a 1A title was bound to happen by logical progression; or as an inevitable by-product of when rugby found riches through Rupert Murdoch’s TV deals twenty-five years ago.
Some might say that the above, and the infiltration of rugby academies are the nub, but I think it’s got a lot to do with an ugly competition between certain schools to see who can become the most prestigious. These talented adolescents are almost a kind of commercial property for these schools. Those schools themselves may argue that suggesting as such is preposterous. But try mounting a defence for that. It’s not easy.
Manoj Daji, the ex-CEO of College Sport, recently revealed a damning cop-out on issues such as student player poaching by some of the more elite Auckland schools (one in particular) from Secondary School Sport NZ. That in relation to regulations set up by ‘College Sport’, as the guardian of secondary school sport in Auckland since 1989 (as established by the Auckland School Principals association, to assist in the delivery of growing inter-school sport back then.)
Such bylaws are deemed to include the concept of fair play, but SSSNZ, were, according to Daji, ‘reluctant to adopt our bylaws, claiming we had a unique Auckland problem.’ Good grief, got to love that- an Auckland problem. Being above others perhaps; are we getting warm?
Practically all secondary schools in the Auckland region are signatories to the governance and regulations of College Sport Auckland. Signing up is supposed to entail an abidance to the regulations, presumably also including an acceptance of a bylaw which gives College Sport the ability to sanction schools who contravene the spirit of inter-school competition.
So when some schools decided it was in their vested interests to go down the route of scouting for talented student rugby players (along with other sports) and offering them scholarships and the like, these schools are in breach of what are the first two rules of being a member school of College Sport Auckland. These state: (a) any conduct which has a detrimental impact on the integrity of a College Sport Auckland Competition, and b) ‘any conduct which brings into disrepute, or is reasonably likely to bring into disrepute, College Sport Auckland’ (and its participating schools.)
With the new partnership between the ‘NZ Sport Collective’ and Sky, it’s not hard to imagine the player poaching issue will get even worse- thanks to the added attraction of being on TV. It looks great on an individual’s social media account. Plus it means easy access for scouts, academies and professional teams to view the talent.
The only price that hasn’t been quoted yet is the one where the less elite schools lose their student leaders and sources of pride to other schools and areas of the city that they most probably have little connection to.
I don’t particularly view Rob Waddell and his associates at NZ Sport Collective as some kind of incarnation of Batman’s The Joker for wanting to televise high school sport. If they do start in earnest though, I want an assurance their net will be spread fairly to include a decent proportion of all schools, not just the more elite ones. Ultimately, if the premise of the whole thing is based around viewer ratings in relation to showing only the famous schools, then, with respect, they can take a hike.
Moreover, it is completely objectionable that NZ Sport Collective appear to have cut a deal for televised school sport from right under the noses of College Sport and their Secondary school principals of greater Auckland.
Really, that is almost enough reason alone to boycott the whole idea.