22 February 2012

Welcome to New Zealand, you mangy son of a dog

It's still early in the South African cricket tour of New Zealand, with the final T20 being played in Auckland tonight before the series moves on to ODIs and three tests. While there is plenty to write about, some commentators have added to the mix of stories about the tour by discussing the New Zealand team's fondness for sledging their opponents, and New Zealand crowds' fondness for abusing visiting players from the safety of the stands.

In particular a second-hand report of an Afrikaans publication back in South Africa has attracted attention in the New Zealand media, which loves to run stories that get up the noses of New Zealand sports fans and appeal to a jingoistic sense of indignation when they are criticised by overseas commentators. 'How dare they voice their opinions about our behaviour? Clearly they're just bad sports, or jealous, or both'.

According to the Herald article,

The Afrikaans-language newspaper Rapport claims several players had told the newspaper of being "unceasingly cursed and insulted" while fielding on the boundary in Wellington as New Zealand went on to a six-wicket win.

Stuff.co.nz, running a piece on the same topic, quoted the level-headed South African allrounder Johan Botha, who scotched rumours that the tourists were unhappy with their treatment in Wellington:

As for the crowd behaviour in the capital, Botha insisted that no Proteas player had complained."You just have to get on and deal with it because it's going to happen. If it affects you then you have to find a way to cope, everyone knows that. If anyone is struggling on the boundary then maybe they have to speak to AB (captain AB de Villiers) and get moved into the inner ring! But really, it's much the same all over the world. You get good crowds everywhere and you get bad sections among them," Botha said.  

I can't vouch for the behaviour of the players, but I can discuss the actions of some of the crowd at the Wellington T20, because I saw some of it at reasonably close quarters. In particular, the lanky young South African bowler who was fielding at the square leg boundary was repeatedly heckled by a drunk and obnoxious New Zealand 'fan' in the front row. The nearby security people did nothing to prevent this idiot from mouthing off and giving the cricket-loving fans of Wellington a bad name. They only sprung into action when the moron overbalanced and fell head-first out of the stand and onto the grass beside the boundary rope, which is probably a drop of two metres. That certainly quietened him up! But this should have been the cue for stadium authorities to check him for medical damage and then eject him from the ground, perhaps with a lengthy ban from attending future sporting fixtures, to teach him a lesson.

Of course that sort of sanction is always going to play second fiddle to the twin factors of alcohol and the demonisation of opponents that lingers in New Zealand sport.

Alcohol sales are an integral part of the economics of sporting fixtures, and particularly in the case of cricket, which is longer than other sports. (They call it one-day cricket for a reason). It's in the interest of the venue to sell as much alcohol as possible to increase their profits, but the intoxication that results is clearly a major factor in turning people off attending cricket matches, particularly those with families. It's hardly conducive to a good family day out to have to sit amongst boozed up creeps who swear and shout for hours on end.

And the long-standing but also worsening issue that compounds the booze problem is that some portions of New Zealand crowds revel in the most churlish reaction to visiting sporting teams, seeking to needle and insult them at every opportunity. It's almost as if these visiting top-flight sporting figures have personally insulted these buffoons: how dare these excellent foreign cricketers come to New Zealand and attempt to beat our team? They must be booed and reviled! I think this all began with the childish habit of booing at rugby matches, fathers and young sons alike, which taught a generation of young New Zealanders that such knavish behaviour was normal and acceptable. Indeed, I was at the ODI at the Stadium some years ago in which the great Australian bowler Glenn McGrath reported that he had even been spat at by one idiot in the crowd! The concept that without these visitors there would be no international matches seems to have bypassed these individuals.

How about a radical new approach to our international sporting guests? Respect their ability, make them feel welcome, applaud their talent when they succeed, and generally just act like a grown-up whether they win or lose? And if people do anything at the cricket, under the influence of alcohol or not, that would get them arrested, why not just evict them from the ground immediately? That's far more lenient than the strict rules in operation at Australian grounds, where hefty fines are imposed for foolish and dangerous behaviour.
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