As a Rugby Union halfback for Wellington in the 1980s, fans would remember Neil Sorensen for his tracer bullet of a pass. The one that often set Wilson, Fraser and Hewson on their merry way to the tryline before the opposition loose forwards had got out of first gear, such was its speed and length..
And you got the feeling that had Sorensen ascended to Steve Tew’s role as NZ Rugby’s CEO, it’s quite likely he would have attempted to reconfigure rather a lot about the way business is conducted within the organisation (it’s hardly fifty-seven old farts and a bottle of gin- I’m well aware, but…) In fact, things may have moved along for the better at about the same pace as that old pass of his.
We can give NZR a bit of leeway however; you can’t really blame an organisation or its people for following generational and entrenched philosophies. It isn’t easy getting a dinosaur to turn on a dime. They are making progress however- you have to give them that. Especially on the welfare and gender recognition fronts.
But even so, a few changes for the better doesn’t mean that as an entity, NZR still isn’t smack in the midst of an identity crisis with their sport.
Inherently within our country, rugby has always been, in rural communities in particular, a type of rite of passage for young men. Naturally there’s a certain great feeling about battling out on the field with loyal team mates at your side; it’s comradeship. In actions like driving the opponent back and in pursuing the ball; it’s a bit of the old hunter-gatherer’s instinct kicking in. And you need to be a tough SOB to make it to the top.
Now though, such elements have become non-gender specific, because globally, women’s rugby over the past six or seven years in particular, has lifted off like Trump’s hair in a high wind. If rugby and its governing body here has been a bit slow off the mark in keeping up with recent, seismic societal change then we shouldn’t be all that shocked. Rugby was just about a hundred percent male-centric domain in the whole of its history until not all that long ago.
Concurrently, it’s taken a while for NZR policies and code of practice governance in gender respect and equality to catch up to the everyday world and business world. A significant mark could have been made (perhaps apart from a chance of Farah Palmer moving a bit more up the pecking order), by an enlightened individual like Sorensen becoming CEO. The stumbling block if he had challenged for the role however, might have been some alleged and convoluted past history related to being an alleged whistle-blower over unsavoury behaviour from another party within NZR.
Such hearsay is by the by though, because Neil Sorensen is packing up his desk at NZR and going on another work journey. Which is a downright shame; even a bit more than that. ‘Sos’ spoke of his passion about Rugby in the community being a very special part of his role of general manger at NZR. With the contemporary and completely lopsided obsession with all things All Black at Wellington HQ, how refreshing to hear an almost dissenting voice from the familiar company line- sure, an exaggeration maybe, but you get the gist.
And was there a little glint there in Sorensen’s eye during his little speech to media last week when he suggested it would make more sense for the All Blacks to be selected from all over the globe? Did he say that knowing full well that the massive power of the All Blacks across multiple spheres of Rugby Union big business might become just a bit diluted in future if such a rule took effect? With the result that a bit more focus may just go back to re-connecting at grassroots and domestic level. Or is that a completely fanciful point? Quite probably, but no harm in raising it.
Happy travels Neil Sorensen. Sounds like someone somewhere in the not-too distant future will be benefitting from working with an excellent human being.