• Sport Must Be the Winner

    The All Blacks’ win last weekend against the Pumas, and their reminder to us of how good they can be, brought a great deal of pleasure to thousands of kiwis. But we have also had evidence over recent days and weeks that sport is not always a generator of sweetness and light.

    The All Blacks’ loss to the same opponents, a couple of weeks earlier, brought out of the woodwork some of sport’s perennial naysayers – people like Stephen Jones, the rugby correspondent of London’s Sunday Times, who has been distinguished for years by his long-standing resentment of the All Blacks’ success, and who never misses the chance to celebrate and put the boot in if they stumble.

    The loss to Argentina gave him the chance to demonstrate just how nasty he can be. New Zealand, he opined, should – in the light of that result – be relegated to the second tier of rugby-playing nations. He appears not to realise how clearly this jibe demonstrates the limitations of his supposed expertise in such matters.

    Anyone with just a smidgin of knowledge about the more than century-long history of the All Blacks would know that it is, inevitably, marked by occasional low points from which the ABs have always quickly recovered.

    Sadly, rugby was not the only sport to produce commentators with inflated views of their own importance and distorted views of what really matters.

    We saw a prime example of this in the public pronouncements of Shoaib Akhtar, the former Pakistani test bowler. He took it upon himself to admonish New Zealand cricket – and New Zealand as a whole – for daring to object to the irresponsible way in which the Pakistani cricket team, visiting New Zealand on tour, has ignored the quarantine requirements we require of visitors, particularly those who have tested positive for Covid-19.

    In Mr Akhtar’s view, New Zealand should be grateful that the Pakistani cricket team, whether or not its members carry the virus or comply with quarantine, has deigned to visit our country. How dare we require them to obey our rules; why should we give priority to defeating the virus? Doesn’t our Covid-free status matter little when set alongside the interests of the Pakistani cricket team?

    No matter that Pakistan – according to Mr Akhtar, “the greatest country on the planet” (which gives us some insight into his mindset) – is riddled wth the virus. It matters not that their cricketers are guests in our country and, as such, – as a matter of common sense and common courtesy – have an obligation to comply with our rules.

    If gratitude that the tour is taking place is to be expected from either party, it is surely from Pakistan – only a country as generous as New Zealand, would even contemplate admitting visitors from a Covid hotspot; it is the Pakistanis who should feel lucky to be here.

    Such is Mr Akhbar’s assessment of his own standing that he feels entitled to lecture New Zealand – the country which tops the international league table as the world’s most resilient and successful in handling the pandemic – on how it should treat visitors and guests who test positive to the virus.

    It would be unfair to the Pakistani cricket team to lumber them with responsibility for Mr Akhtar’s ill-judged and arrogant remarks. We can only marvel that someone can be found to utter such drivel and who suffers from the misconception that a visiting cricket team is worth more than the interests of a whole nation.

    Given the continued prevalence of Covid-19 in their homeland, we might excuse the cricketers themselves for failing to recognise our determination to keep it under control; calls for the team to be sent home immediately are understandable but we need not show ourselves to be as intemperate and self-obsessed as Mr Akhtar has been.

    International sport is a wonderful way of spreading goodwill and breaking down barriers. It would be a tragedy if the views of one opinionated individual – inflated by his own self-importance – should, at a time when the virus threatens all of international sport, erect a new set of barriers quite unnecessarily. Cricket – and New Zealand – deserve better than that.

    Bryan Gould
    1 December 2020