In-depth look at sporting passion
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