A tribute to “the beautiful game”


When it was first announced that Russia was going to host the F.I.F.A. World Cup in 2018 I was less than impressed. At the time Russian nationalism, its participation in football hooliganism and an intolerance of homosexuals and foreigners was on display. Then F.I.F.A.’s boss Sepp Blatter was made to step down because of damning allegations against him which further tarnished the games international image.

But in the last few months one could see growing excitement as a new World Cup approached. People stopped talking about the political ruckus going on around the football pitch. People started talking about who would win, which stars would be there and how their favourite teams would go. It began to become interesting and not another political football.

Yesterday that excitement around the world reached fever point. After amazing pool play that saw all manner of surprises, and some shock finals, Russia hosted France and Croatia as they played for the crowning glory of the 2018 F.I.F.A. World Cup.

Congratulations France. Commisserations Croatia.

Whether one likes football or not – I didn’t watch a single match from end to end, though I saw the highlights for all of the finals – one has to admire the extent to which 22 players booting a round leather ball for 90 minutes can captivate millions of people across the globe, putting aside poverty and war; refugee camps and Brexit politics. Just for 90 minutes something other than the daily struggles of live become more important, more exciting. Something worth riding the thrills and spills of. In that context F.I.F.A. 2018 has provided plenty.

Whether you are from a nation that did not get there to or being French or Croatian, whether you liked football or not, you have probably had a conversation that involved the word football in a F.I.F.A. 2018 context. Whether you simply watched the highlights myself, or went to the bar to watch it, or were one of the lucky thousands to have secured tickets to a match football has probably crossed your mind in the last six weeks.

Football is a beautifully simple game if one can see past the theatrics of players like Neymar. It is a game that unites the world in a way no other sport can – rugby, cricket and others make an honest go of it, but none of them have the truly international breadth of football. We are talking about a sport that is played with gusto on every continent except Antarctica, though I am sure it has been talked about down there. We are talking about a sport that has – if I read correctly – 4 billion people watching the World Cup Final around the world.

Football gives hope in the most unusual ways – from Palestinian militants stopping briefly to celebrate a David Beckham goal, to kids in refugee camps around the world kicking footballs across muddy ground; from girls trying to Bend it like Beckham to relative minnow nations like New Zealand (ranked 89th in the world) when we toppled the then no. 15, Serbia in 2010 just a few weeks before the F.I.F.A. World Cup that year.

Now as we start to look forward to it being in Qatar in 2022, an event currently being marred by human rights abuses building the stadiums, I am trying to keep an open mind following the success of a tournament that was far better than I thought it would be. Hopefully Qatar will rise to the occasion and put on something to match or better F.I.F.A. 2022.

Thanks very much for proving me and many many others wrong Russia.

It is just not cricket!


Irrespective of which cricket playing nation you live in and irrespective of any observing nation you live in, I want people to know that cricket is so much more than a bunch of corrupt players tampering with the ball; throwing matches or otherwise bringing the game into disrepute. It is a game that  is played by nations comprising perhaps 25% of the worlds population.

In the past if there has been some sort of improper conduct associated with cricket it has – generally (a New Zealand tampering incident involving Martin Crowe and Chris Pringle in Pakistan in 1990 being one exception) – had its roots in Indian book makers or players being asked to perform certain actions, such as deliberately getting out on a particular ball or not taking runs. The people who have been caught in these acts have all brought the game into shame. But it has picked itself up and removed those troublesome individuals – New Zealand player Lou Vincent was banned for life from any involvement in the game; Salim Malik of Pakistan for earlier incidents

My respect for Australian cricket is in free fall. The nation we all loved to not support on the cricket field, the nation that won the 1999, 2003 and 2007 World Cups as well as the 2015 World Cup needs to take an ice cold hard look at itself and where it stands in the so called “gentleman’s game”.

This just is not cricket. This is stupidity on a monumental scale from a team that just as much as I and an awful lot of others dearly want to thrash in the cricket, came to respect their players brilliance – right from the Don, Allan Border, big Merv, the Waugh bros, Ricky Ponting, Michael Clarke, Brett Lee, Shane Warne, Ian Healy and many many more who made the game great and a thrill to watch – thought were honestly above this shit. These gentlemen are, but the two fools mentioned below certainly are not.

This is disgusting beyond belief. Oh sure others did it too. Shahid Afridi bit the ball, so, apparently did Sachin Tendulkar. The latter got a one match ban.

But this is different. This was sanctioned by the highest echelons of the Australian team short of the coach. This was sanctioned by Steve Smith and Cameron Bancroft, as well as a bunch of senior players.

Steve Smith might have resigned the Captaincy and David Warner the Vice Captaincy, but both now have to face the wrath of Cricket Australia and accept in full any punishment handed down by the I.C.C.

Protecting the whitebait fishery in New Zealand


Whitebait are a New Zealand delicacy. Every year hundreds of people try their hand at catching the tasty translucent morsels that enter our coastal waterways. On the market, a kilogram of whitebait may fetch N.Z.$90.

Whitebait patties are how most whitebait that are caught end up. Their popularity is enduring by virtue of the relative ease and speed of making them. They were the entree at the A.P.E.C. 1999 State Banquet held for the then United States President Bill Clinton and the Chinese President Jiang Zemin.

But whitebait are in danger of extinction. Their immense popularity, damage to their habitat and (this is debatable)over fishing of the delicacy, which have five subspecies in New Zealand – climbing galaxias, common galaxias, banded kokopu, shortjaw kokopu and giant kokopu have brought about severe challenges for a popular recreational past time. This has brought with it, talk of possibly closing the fishery for a period of one or two years during which there is a complete ban on whitebaiting, with the idea being that whitebait would be able to regain some of their population.

Whitebait habitat damage, and in particular their spawning grounds is the most serious threat they face. A spawning ground might be only a couple standard glass houses in area, but in that area tens of thousands of whitebait will be depositing their eggs, and the destruction of that one spawning ground might be the difference between whether or not that particular river/stream/creek/estuary/lagoon has a meaningful whitebait population the following year.

I and my father whitebait each year. We have no problems with compliance and follow local regulations specific to the Canterbury area and fisheries. We do it because we enjoy eating whitebait and are not there to make a profit from doing so, which some are – our purpose has always been to put food on the table, which is what I believe all hunting and fishing should be about. We do not leave any litter or other debris behind that might enter their habitat and cause adverse effects.

Pollutants entering the habitat – cigarette butts, plastics, and so forth – are another threat that needs to be considered. This is a general common pollution issue that should be dealt with separately by way of enforcement action by local council rangers. Fines and – most appropriately – making the offender participate in a rubbish clean up would be a good way of getting the message across.

No quotas exist for whitebaiters. It is debatable whether there needs to be quotas. One will immediately ask, if quotas exist, how are they going to be enforced and the only answer from hard experience is by ground enforcement on the spot. There would need to be many rangers enforcing the quotas and there is a possibility that they would – like anyone involved in law enforcement – possibly have to deal with hostile people. The quota size itself would also be up for debate. Sometimes several kilogrammes of whitebait might be caught each day, and then there might be none or little for several days or even weeks – nearly all we caught this year was taken in the final week of the season.

Whitebaiters are permitted to whitebait from dawn to dusk. They are allowed nets and gobi’s (nylon fencing on poles)that extend from the net to the shore. The combined net/gobi arrangement cannot take up more than 1/3 of a channel width and must be manned at all times. A whitebait net cannot be less than 20 metres from another whitebait net. The season start time varies from one region to the next – the Canterbury one started in mid-August and ended at sunset 30 November.

I don’t want any children I might eventually have or anyone else who has children to be denied the opportunity to show them an easy and fun – albeit sometimes patience testing – mode of fishing. So, let us enjoy our whitebait, but apply a bit of common sense and protect the habitats, don’t take more than you want to use and respect the other whitebaiters who have come to try their luck.

Common sense really.

Time to address concussion in sport


The deaths of two young rugby players just a few days apart will bring into crystal clear focus the very high risk in certain types of sport of concussion. For the first time players and media commentators seem to be starting to accept that it is time to stop beating about the bush, and accept that the cons of a head knock during a match far out weigh the pros. But even as the evidence and concern has continued to to grow that there is a crisis, in that the sporting bodies, the administrators are trying to depict more immediate problems in the form of meeting corporate priorities, least that they suddenly find themselves suffering a knock of another sort.

Rugby and rugby league have always been high risk collision sports where physical human contact is integral to the game. Both have rules about how to deal with high and poorly executed tackles where the head part of the spinal system may suffer concussive type knocks.

Contrast with the National Football League in the United States where dollars seem to be more important than the well being of players in the long term. The pressure to get players that can change a match to go back on the field when they are still suffering symptoms has been the subject of numerous documentaries and a movie. Coaching a football team of young men who have a macho attitude is considered to be a major honour without really thinking about how these people will fair when they retire continues to challenge American sporting authorities. It also challenges the medical practitioners, the families who have to watch their loved ones deal with the effects of brain damage or damage to the spinal cord caused by a heavy knock or knocks. It affects their potential job prospects because the damage might mean that the brain tires more quickly or is not able to deal with complex matters as easily as a healthy brain not subject to such issues might.

But whilst New Zealand might seem to be making progress when rugby and league are compared to the N.F.L. competition there is no doubt that we have some way to go in addressing the issues they present.

In fact it is long since time to take this to the next level and institute a concussion programme for anyone playing sport where there is the potential for concussion. Netball, rugby, cricket – all need to come on board. Who can forget the Australian batsman who fell down dead after being struck by a bouncer a couple of years ago? Horrific, totally unintentional yet, thanks to the design of the helmet an act that would have been lethal quite quickly Phil Hughes suffered what would have become very severe bleeding of one of the most important arteries in his body, which would have put quick and massive pressure on his brain.

What about net ballers misjudging a high intercept and occasionally colliding mid air? It has probably happened. I cannot recall any major incidents where anyone went off with concussion, but certainly watching their charges in playing, team coaches and physicians have probably wondered

Of course we should enjoy our sport and the more people who get involved the better for everyone well. The more who enjoy a good netball or rugby match, or whatever – all the better – but lets try to keep the injury toll down. I do not think after all there is a single person who would argue that two deaths from concussion related issues is two too many.