New Zealand’s growing pains

Growing up (in) New Zealand

New Zealand is a young country. That is if you disregard earlier settlers and start with the arrival of Rugby.
Growing up as a young country goes in leaps and bounds. In the old days it was months long overseas tours from the Incredibles to the Invincibles around the turn of the last century to the four yearly Rugby World Cup tournaments of the present time.

This year we have been going through an unsettling and painful period of upheaval, which normally would be associated with a growth spurt. We had the urgent overnight law change extending drinking hours in pubs and bars as if we only had known since last week that the 2015 tournament is played on the other side of the world in a different time zone.
The latest is the “Push back for Black” full page news paper ad campaign over the last weeks to push back the working hours in New Zealand to give the rugby fans the time to sober up after their early morning drinking sessions watching the game.

It is questionable if this is actually a sign of growing up, progress, ‘moving forward’ as a nation or the opposite a step backwards towards retardation.

Lessons from the home front

I have to admit that I do not understand rugby. When I came from a non English speaking  nor rugby playing country to New Zealand in 1981 my sporting days were well and truly over. I have just been watching from the sideline my children play. Unlike cricket, which I learned to understand, love and follow, one obviously has to have played rugby to understand the rules and appreciate the game. However I have a young true Kiwi friend who explained it to me in terms I can understand.

I commented on the above mentioned “Push back for Black” campaign saying what a lucky country we are. In a world in trouble wherever we look our biggest concern seems to be the drinking and working hours around a sports tournament. He got very agitated almost angry with me that I didn’t appreciate that Rugby is really our religion.


This made me think and reflect on the nature of this our religion and my friend as an example of it’s worshippers.

I have known this young man for a very long time. He was brought up in a secular almost anti-religious family. He got baptised and confirmed simultaneously while attending a christian boarding school only to get access to some mess wine and probably giving the fingers to his father. He never attended church ever again after leaving that school even for his own wedding and his children are not baptised or brought up in any kind of religious believe. In other words you would not find a more secular person if it would not be for Rugby.

I really got him into trouble by asking, which side he would have been on during the 1981 Springbok Tour. I know him as a fair, strong anti-apartheid kind of a guy who knows that part of our history even if he was just born at the time. He struggled with his answer trying to reconcile his values with his religion. His somewhat unprincipled but practical response was : Depending if I had a ticket.

I have to admit though he takes his religion seriously. During the first match of the All Blacks at the weekend he checked the score on his phone in the middle of the night and the ABs were behind. He got so worried that he got up and decided to watch the second half. As the house is a sky-free zone he had to get on the computer and pay a $17 one day subscription to watch the rest of the game in leaps and interruptions because of our slow internet speed. All this just after four o’clock in the morning. His worship was rewarded with the come-from-behind win by the All Blacks.

May be the All Blacks and the nation for that matter have to thank him and all the rugby supporters like him. The ‘Push back for Black” campaign might be right in their IMPORTANT MESSAGE FOR THE NEW ZEALAND PUBLIC  asking “to allow the nation the chance to watch the games and support our team“. The ABs might not have won without the valiant early morning support from my friend and people like him. We will know whom to blame if our Rugby Gods don’t bring back the revered trophy. It will be heartless, godless New Zealand employers just thinking of the economy and productivity when keeping to normal working hours.

Rugby as our religion

For a secular man I am thinking quite a bit about religion. You might remember one of my previous blogs “Thank you Brian Tamaki“.

At closer inspection Rugby meets all the criteria of a religion. If the NZ Rugby Union does not already have tax-exempt status it should.
Rugby is our religion. Richie McCaw, Sunny Bill Williams and the rest of the All Blacks are our gods. And in the case of my friend who can’t get to the stadium itself Sky TV is the surrogate church where you put your 17 dollars on the collection plate during the service. And it makes us feel good at least most of the time if you are lucky enough to be an All Black supporter.

But most of all as with the other organised religions ultimately it is all about money. The worshippers pay keeping the faith. The people on the top get rich. However the All Blacks have still a long way to go to reach their financial potential as it was timely pointed out in yesterday’s NZ Herald.

And everyone feels good and seems to be happy. Religion again fulfils it’s function.

Where does it leave us secular people ?  We are hoping that with all the sleepless nights, law changes, angst and upheaval our nation will grow up a little bit more.

I’m afraid we might be left with just the growing pains.

by  Dr. Hans B. Grueber


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