This week, a sporting celebrity, Peter Miskimmin, was our guest speaker.
He is an icon in the world of international hockey, having played 150 tests for NZ over 12 years and appearing at two Olympic Games. He is also an old friend of Bryan Waddle, and the two were able to exchange embarrassing anecdotes.
Peter is now CEO of Sport New Zealand, which is an organisation funded by the government and has a wide and heavy brief.
Sport is a New Zealand passion, which makes Peter’s job both easier and harder. Easier, because it captures everyone’s attention. Harder, because everyone has a view and an axe to grind.
We are an extraordinarily successful sporting nation for our size, a fact which is not properly appreciated. We have had world champions in many sports, and participation is high. Sporting achievement is part of the kiwi identity.
Historically, the reasons are not hard to find. Children pay a lot of sport here, especially in rural areas, and we have sporting role models, and excellent coaches: world-class in many cases.
We are abreast of new technologies in eg cycling and yachting. We send our best athletes overseas to compete with the best, which can be relatively expensive. Covid-19 is making this more difficult.
There are downsides. Children now have inflated expectations, and success is measured too much in commercial terms. This is a disincentive to teamwork and the ‘fun’ side of sporting activity.
Sports clubs are struggling as the young are turning to individually based sport such as cycling, surfing, fitness, and even E-Sport. Organised, structured sport is a turn-off, it appears.
There is a strong connection between sport and the physical and mental health of the nation. Physical activity peaks at age 12, on average, and declines thereafter. It is markedly lower in deprived communities. This is a worry, and Sport NZ now has a focus on youth, and especially those in deprived areas.
Sport NZ has the difficult task of allocating its funds between these needs and its traditional support for elite and successful athletes.
A fascinating talk by one who is immersed in his role and is able to communicate it in fine style.