In-depth look at sport­ing pas­sion

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As his­to­ries of any sub­ject go, this is as com­pre­hen­sive and widerang­ing as any­thing be­fore it. The re­search is so thor­ough it must have taken years to com­pile, and one can only re­gard the au­thors with ad­mi­ra­tion.

New Zealan­ders are pas­sion­ate about sport, and about vir­tu­ally every kind of sport. The ob­vi­ous ones, like rugby, cricket, league, net­ball, soc­cer, hockey, sail­ing, ath­let­ics, ten­nis and oth­ers get the most cover­age, but then horse rac­ing and trot­ting, car and mo­tor­bike rac­ing, triathlons, swim­ming, gym­nas­tics, ta­ble ten­nis, wood­chop­ping, box­ing, sheep­dog tri­als, bas­ket­ball, and base­ball also get their share. And I’ve prob­a­bly omit­ted a few, as some schools of­fer about 30 dif­fer­ent kinds of sport­ing ac­tiv­ity.

The pe­riph­er­als are also ex­am­ined in depth — women’s sports, Ma¯ ori sport, the in­ter­ac­tion be­tween sport and so­ci­etal be­hav­iour, pro­fes­sion­al­ism, dress, in­ter­na­tional re­la­tions and con­tacts, gam­bling, spon­sor­ships, the feuds over al­co­hol, and the con­tri­bu­tion of sport to the na­tional iden­tity.

The most fas­ci­nat­ing of all these top­ics is the his­tory of women in sport. Their early for­ays into par­tic­i­pa­tion led to some ex­tra­or­di­nary re­ac­tions. One fac­tion feared that sport would cause fe­males to lose their fem­i­nin­ity. What they should wear when play­ing, to dis­play a sober and be­com­ing mod­esty, was also cause for some im­pas­sioned de­bate.

But prob­a­bly the great­est cause of con­cern was that par­tic­i­pa­tion would harm child­bear­ing. Un­sur­pris­ingly, women were dis­crim­i­nated against. They re­ceived less back­ing, smaller and in­fe­rior fa­cil­i­ties and equip­ment, and scant ad­min­is­tra­tion.

The most whim­si­cal true anec­dote in this vein in­volved the girls from St Mar­garet’s in Christchurch in the 1920s. When they were al­lowed to use the Christ’s Col­lege pool they were firmly in­structed to keep their eyes averted when go­ing into the col­lege, and not to draw at­ten­tion to them­selves by scream­ing when they en­tered the icy wa­ter. To­day, watch­ing women box and play con­tact sports like rugby, em­pha­sises how at­ti­tudes and be­hav­iour have changed.

This is a large book — 464 pages, and there are many his­toric pho­to­graphs. It is both an in­ter­est­ing read and a valu­able ref­er­ence book. Well done au­thors and pub­lisher.

A march­ing team prac­tis­ing in the 1940s, prob­a­bly in Palmer­ston North. In­tro­duced in the in­ter­war pe­riod, march­ing peaked in pop­u­lar­ity dur­ing the 1970s and 1980s. Manawatu¯ Her­itage, Palmer­ston North, 2013G_ELMAR-B5_006957

Sport And The New Zealan­ders — A His­tory By Greg Ryan and Ge­off Wat­son, Auck­land Univer­sity Press, $65, hard­back

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