And the sporting capital of the world is.....?   2 Jul 2010

Marty Hearnden and Michael Hinds

OPINION: Just the sort of question that is guaranteed to start an argument between any group of sports fans. You can picture it now as everyone settles down with a cold drink to argue the virtues of the USA (probably but they don’t really play the same stuff as us), Australia (unfortunately they certainly have a case) and the more creative will mention Cuba, surely the great over-achievers. How about China (not really) or even Russia (ditto)? Little old New Zealand probably gets a mention purely on parochial grounds and because we will turn our hands to just about anything and compete. The answer to the question? I confidently give you the United Kingdom!

I can almost hear everyone fall about the floor laughing and immediately launching into many stories of the hapless Poms and how they don’t win anything and basically compete so that everyone else can beat then and have a good laugh in the process. Surely the Brits idea of sport is to get drunk and rampage thru Ibiza (or Barnsley) wearing replica football shirts and eating very badly. The performance of the England side at the Football World Cup does little to dispel this theory but further investigation and a bit of careful thought is required.

The argument is actually very simple, they basically invented sport as we know it and if they did not actually invent it they certainly codified it, organised it and took it to the world. As over 60% of Kiwis can still trace their ancestry back to the UK we did not stand much of a chance. Virtually all of the sports that we have come to know and love fall into this category – William Webb Ellis picked up the ball and ran with it at Rugby School, Cricket is traced directly back to the village greens of England, League is traced back to a pub in Huddersfield and a meeting of disaffected players who wanted to be paid, Golf is Scottish (12th century), Tennis entertained the upper class in the 19th century and the list goes on. Just who first decided that it was fun to kick a ball around is lost in the mists of time, even the Chinese rather speculatively lay claim to this, but the English FA (formed in 1863) wrote the rules and organised leagues. This spread onto the continent, UK railway workers took the game to Argentina and South America, the rest is history.

Kiwis come to the UK for many reasons, but unless they are (semi) professionals, sport is probably not high on the list. However, you do not have to be in the country (town or City) long to see the hold it has on the nation and just how that love of games has spread around the world. Even now, if you study the calendar of events it dwarfs whatever goes on in countries in Europe. Right now we are in the midst of a World Cup, Wimbledon is reaching its climax, England are playing Australia in ODIs, the county cricket season is in full swing, so is the League season, Golf builds towards the Open and all is right in the world and the much awaited start of the premiership season is starting to creep back into conversation again.

Another aspect of this is the coverage it all gets in the various media. One thing I will miss about the UK when we go back to God’s own is the BBC, their coverage of Wimbledon is way better then very good, it is superb. On the Sky Channels (pay to view) it is wall to wall football and throw in some excellent cricket coverage to boot. Basically if it moves, shoots or scores it is on the telly. The All Blacks? No problem, in fact compulsory breakfast viewing on a Saturday, a bit odd I know but better than the middle of the night. Super 14, Air NZ Cup and even the Black Caps all feature right down to the familiar twang of Ian Smith and Mark Richardson.

Sorry folks, no argument here, the UK it is. Obviously if you have grown up on Ice Hockey, Baseball and Basketball then maybe the US is your choice but our links to the Mother Country are a bit stronger than you may think, just cast your eye around the sporting spectrum. Must dash, Wimbledon to watch and the Kiwi girls are about to take on England in a 20/20 international…..

 

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