Sunday, November 9, 2014

Haka politics as part of global rugby’s overdrive

The French “arrow” challenge to the All Blacks’ haka in the 2011 World Cup final – France lost narrowly 8-7.

By Brendan Bradford on Sportal

OPINION: The chief sportswriter for Britain’s Daily Telegraph, Oliver Brown, claims the haka is “scarcely more than a circus display” and that is “hidebound by political correctness”.

In a column for the Telegraph online, Brown implores his readers to grasp the “anomalousness” (yep, that’s a word we’re using now apparently) of the haka by recalling the “utter befuddlement” with which it was received by the American men’s basketball team at the recent World Cup.

Rather than incite fear in the opposition, writes Brown, the haka has become a “theatrically-rendered cultural curiosity,” and an “exotic sideshow”.

When you’ve got American-run competitions to find the best haka in the country in the lead up to the All Blacks’ game against the United States, the “cultural curiosity” tag is fair enough – but that’s not Brown’s complaint.

His grievance seems to be that the opposing team doesn’t have a right of reply – even though his main point is that the haka has become a sideshow.

“The trouble is that whenever the opposing team invokes this, it leads to the most frightful diplomatic mess,” he writes, before mentioning a fine incurred by Australia’s women’s team after they advanced during the 2010 World Cup.

Fitting retort
Brown also highlights English prop Richard Cockerill’s response to Norm Hewitt and a few attempts by the Welsh to conjure a fitting retort.

“It stands alone in sport as a unilateral statement of intent, to which no challenge is permissible,” he claims.

The Tongan Sipi Tau, Samoan Siva Tau and Fijian Cibi and Bole spring to mind.

Is it New Zealand’s fault that England doesn’t have a similar pre-match ritual? What’s wrong with belting out ‘Swing Low Sweet Chariot’ or ‘Jerusalem’?

It would certainly get the crowd more involved. Besides, there have been plenty of haka responses through the years.

The most famous, in the 2007 World Cup quarter-final, saw the French go shoulder to shoulder, advance to halfway and stare the All Blacks down. The French won 20-18.

In 2011, Les Bleus tried the same thing and it almost worked again. France lost 8-7.

Opposing counter
Even Buck Shelford, the man credited with reviving the haka in the late 1980s, doesn’t have a problem with opposing teams countering it as they see fit.

“I thought the response of the French (in 2011) was outstanding,” he said on The Crowd Goes Wild. “I wish more teams would stand up to it and be positive about it and that was very positive. When they walked out and formed that V shape, I thought ‘my God, they’re here to play’.”

The All Blacks are undoubtedly rugby’s best marketing tool as the code attempts to break into new markets with a Super Rugby team in Japan and New Zealand’s trip to the States.

In addition to being a powerful display of Kiwi culture, the haka is part of rugby’s global drive, and to bemoan its ongoing existence is insular and petty.

To call it a circus act is merely infantile – especially when England spent the last three years recovering from a disastrous 2011 World Cup in which their players took part in a dwarf throwing contest.

Besides, can you imagine an All Blacks Test match without a haka preceding it? The anomalousness of such a trifling notion is sure to cause utter befuddlement in any true rugby fan, old sport.

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