OPINIONSportsMay 31, 2016

NZ outgrowing the All Blacks is not a cause for panic, but celebration


New Zealand may finally be moving past its fixation on the All Blacks and Madeleine Chapman is bloody excited about it.

This morning on Stuff, an opinion piece by Cas Carter mourned the impending loss of New Zealand’s identity as a rugby-loving country. “Our image as a hard core rugby loving nation is under threat,” she fretted. “If we are not a rugby adoring nation, what are we and how will we stand out in the international crowd?”

While the column has attracted criticism, mostly over some of the remarks about ethnicity, she was right on one thing: New Zealand’s identity is changing.

And it’s about damn time.

Somehow, we have become the country that excels in areas almost nobody cares about. We’re the best in the world at rugby but most of the world couldn’t care less about rugby. We’re great at netball, a sport even fewer countries know exists. And we’re finally good at cricket which is great but … you get the picture.

Surprisingly not a finalist in the flag referendum (Photo by Phil Walter/Getty Images)

It’s almost as if, to spare ourselves from potential global embarrassment, we choose to perform to a niche market in every area. Americans can look down on rugby all they like because they just don’t get it.

Meanwhile, New Zealand rowers and athletes have truly been excelling on the world stage, winning a handful of golds at world events this week, but you’d hardly know it. Athletics and rowing are too mainstream (pun intended) for us to revel in it. At least until the Olympics come around where there are no All Blacks, Black Caps, or Silver Ferns to be seen and suddenly we’re a rowing-mad nation. We’d rather channel all our collective energy and work to be dominant in a niche sport than “pretty good” in a global sport.

It’s not just in the sporting world that this happens either. When movies are box office smash hits here in New Zealand but not commercially successful anywhere else in the world, we have a ready-made excuse. “It’s New Zealand humour, you wouldn’t get it.” “It’s a cultural thing, you wouldn’t understand.” It’s like we’re the ultimate hipster country. It’s only cool if no one else knows about it.

A New Zealander famous for something other than being a from New Zealand (Photo by Isaac Brekken/Getty Images for iHeartMedia)
A New Zealander famous for something other than being from New Zealand (Photo by Isaac Brekken/Getty Images for iHeartMedia)

Serato, a global juggernaut in the music software industry, was formed and is based in Central Auckland. A staple amongst musicians and DJs, Serato has been name-checked by many rap artists including A$AP Rocky and Kanye West. But there is nothing uniquely Kiwi about DJ equipment so why should we care. Instead, we are amazed by the success of TradeMe, a site literally only used in this country.

Once upon a time we accepted the fact that ‘Don’t Dream It’s Over’ would be our one token of global success in the music industry and now we have Lorde, a bonafide superstar. We thought Sean Marks, the most conspicuous NBA player in history, would be our basketball hero and now look at Steven Adams.

New Zealand is a country that ironically prides itself on being humble. As a result, our sights are often set so low as to avoid disappointment. It’s about time we realised that we don’t have to just be known as that tiny country where they play that dangerous sport pretty well. Or that place where Lord of The Rings was shot and looks really pretty.

New Zealanders are excelling on the world stage in all areas but we as a country are still too scared to assert ourselves as being notable for anything besides rugby. Forget “World famous in New Zealand”, the sooner we realise that New Zealand is not its own little world that no one knows about, the better. How great will it be when the day comes that a successful New Zealander is interviewed overseas and not asked about all the sheep in little old New Zealand.

Keep going!