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New Zealand Sport Is Returning To Form

Contributor:
Chris Ford
Chris Ford

New Zealand sport is returning to form. This was symbolised by the All Whites qualifying for soccer's World Cup last weekend.

This was just another good sports news story for us. Also last weekend our women's hockey players qualified for the Hockey World Cup in India next year. Team New Zealand continues to turn in good performaces in the Louis Vuitton Cup. The All Blacks (despite a close scrape last weekend against Wales) while losing the Tri Nations still keep a hold over the Bledisloe Cup. Otagoite Alison Shanks claimed a gold medal for New Zealand at the World Cycling Champs in Poland earlier this year. Besides, we are the reigning rugby league champions. Even Nick Willis's belated Olympic silver medal awarded this week (following the disqualification of the Bahraini gold medalist for doping) shows that we continue to make waves in track and field once again. Our Paralympians turned in great performances in Beijing as well. Really the only blemish on our record is the abysmal performance of the Black Caps cricket team who fell to Pakistan in the recent 20/20 World Cup.

Already the last two years have shown that we are beginning to punch above our weight again in global sport. But for a while there national self-doubt set in. After the AB's semi-final ejection from the Rugby World Cup back in 2007, many Kiwi sports fans began to feel downcast. That year marked our nadir in sporting terms as we also lost the Netball World Cup and turned in a bad performance at the cricketing equivalent. Team New Zealand lost out (again) at the America's Cup to the Swiss. We could not help but think to ourselves that the Aussies, along with the likes of former sporting minnows like Great Britain and even Switzerland, now had the upper hand in sporting terms.

Historically, we had done better than this. In the early 1980s, we were on a par or even beating our neighbours, the Aussies across many sporting codes. Remember the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics where we won eight gold medals to Australia's three?  But then the Aussies hit back through putting more funding into their National Institute of Sport. After that, from the early 1990's on, they started to beat us at just about everything. Not even the Rugby World Cup was safe from the clutches of the Wallabies who, during the 1990s, won it twice.  The English and South African rugby sides have also claimed the Webb Ellis Trophy too.

Now it appears that we're on the comeback trail. More government funding from organisations like Sport and Recreation New Zealand (Sparc) and increased private sponsorship of key codes like rugby, cricket, soccer and netball have seen the employment of good full or part-time coaches and mangers. Perhaps another factor is the substantial upgrading of our sporting infrastructure with the construction of new stadiums in Christchurch and Wellington. The sporting public and media have pushed for the raising of the bar too in terms of demanding improved performances from our sportsmen and sportswomen.

While it is likely that we may not win the world's premier soccer title next year, our All Whites will surely put every effort into it. Even if we make the quarter-finals before dipping out, that would be classified as a successful tournament for us. Next year is a significant global sporting year as besides the FIFA Soccer World Cup, the Winter Olympics and Paralympics are to be held in Vancouver, Canada and the Commonwealth Games in New Delhi, India. While our Winter Paralympians will likely outshine our Winter Olympians in Vancouver, our Commonwealth Games team should do well if it includes the likes of Nick Willis, Valerie Vili and Alison Shanks. And the following year is 2011 and heaven and earth will most likely be moved to host a successful and, for us, hopefully triumphant Rugby World Cup.

Therefore, we head into 2010 with the best sporting prospects for many decades. The key for our sportspeople and their coaches/managers is not to stuff up all the progress of the last year or two. The lessons of 2007 should be avoided as we aim to raise our sporting profile high once again. 

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