Friday, June 04, 2004

Pacific Islanders in the business of New Zealand rugby: rucking the national identity?

This article is a result of an honours paper I did at Canterbury University Geography department around 2000. I'm revisiting it in light of the amalgamation of the Samoan, Fijian and Tongan rugby union teams into the Pacific Islanders. If anything the international labour division process continues (thanks to the comments on this from an audience member of the 2001 'Space Odyssey ' NZ and Ozzie Geoggraphy conference, Dunedin).

Introduction
The place of sport in modern society is such that previously used terms like 'game', 'pastime' or 'leisure activity' seem quaint and almost nostalgic. Sport has become a dynamic business, an often lucrative if fickle career for certain individuals and an expression of identity and pride for many if not most countries. All of these features are evident around the Pacific region, particularly within the 'national game' of New Zealand, rugby union. From an amateur game first played in 1870, New Zealand representatives now sign contracts for up to $250,000 per season and can earn lucrative sponsorship and marketing contracts. First televised live via satellite in 1972, the broadcast rights were purchased by Rupert Murdoch's global company for what appears to be the bargain price of $828 million dollars for 10 years. All Blacks regularly feature in advertisements for products ranging from beer, pizza and cars to hotels and milk. Their marriages, social lives and off-field indiscretions provide regular media filling and their on-field exploits continue to provide New Zealand with a ready source of pride and a focus for nationalism.

Historically the game itself was idealised as an egalitarian melting pot where class and ethnicity were ignored, a 'fundamentally…democratic game.' The participation of the indigenous Maori was valued as they impressed as skilled and exuberant footballers. In the 1980's other groups of Pacific Islanders were to make their mark on the sports fields of New Zealand. Increasing numbers of Samoan, Tongan and Fijian players achieved provincial honours. Some went on to cement places in the national team and travel the world as representatives of the famed 'All Blacks'.

This project investigates this phenomenon by firstly examining Pacific Islanders as representatives of New Zealand rugby through their historical and contemporary involvement in the sport and the implications this has for Pacific Island teams. Secondly the impacts of this on the place of Pacific Islanders within New Zealand's national identity will be examined.


Methodology
Bale and Maguire position the issues of sports labour migration within the context of globalization. They note that sports geography is a comparatively new field and is yet to utilise the theoretical apparatus of sociology and history where sports has a much longer presence. The most common treatment has been to simply map the information and show the patterns of migratory flows between origin and destination, revealing 'talent-deficit' and 'talent-surplus' areas. This method can be complemented by a behavioral approach which acknowledges such migration to be the outcome of a decision-making process. Bale took an analogy from Taylor's three-tier model of the world political system in describing different scales for studying sports migration: 1, reality (global-achievement sport); 2, ideology (national sport systems); and 3, experience (local sport situation). The phenomenon of 'the Brawn drain' cannot be understood only by examining events in individual countries.

The second half of this research aims to illuminate what the implications of the appearance of Pacific Islanders in New Zealand's national game have for national identity. Sport has increasingly served as an exemplary area for research on these issues. The utility of the game of rugby for the purposes of illuminating these issues in New Zealand has been acknowledged in various fields. Whitson argues that sport has been particularly effective in expressing nationalism for several reasons. Sporting contests are 'popular dramas' that define a rivalry between 'us' and 'them', inviting members of each community to identify with the fortunes of 'their' team. Importantly sports have origins that spread beyond the urban elites, unlike such fields as the arts and sciences. Also, with international competition, triumphs and defeats become a part of national mythology, complete with ready-made heroes and villains. Linked to this is the concept of 'patriotism', key elements of which are an identification with a country and a concern for its success in sporting endevours. Engaging in participant observation techniques during the 2000 rugby season in New Zealand, as well as drawing on previous experiences in and around the game, I will illuminate aspects of Pacific Island labour migration to New Zealand's rugby industry.


1. The International Stage: Global Sport

"Let us export our oarsmen, our fences, our runners into other lands. That is the true free trade of the future…"

                                                                                                                  Pierre de Coubertin (1892)

Sporting events now regularly capture and captivate world audiences: 2 billion for the 1998 World Cup final in Paris and a likely viewing audience in the billions for the 2000 Sydney Olympics. The figures hint at the scale of enterprise involved: Sydney's Olympics are expected to boost the Australian GDP by A$7.3 billion. The individuals competing can become not just fabulously wealthy but also almost universally recognised. Although the sums may be ludicrous for 'just a game' the same argument can be posed for any of a number of 'industries'. But sport has come to encapsulate feelings of nationalism: as Eric Hobsbawm said, 'the imagined community of millions seems more real as a team of eleven people'. Whatever its origins and not withstanding the influence of the media, it has been said that sport is 'the Esperanto of the modern world' and 'an arena where diversity is publicly celebrated and cross-cultural understanding facilitated'. Certainly it features regularly in expressions of national identity and pride around the Pacific, not least in New Zealand. In this time of economic and cultural volatility in New Zealand, what is the role of Pacific Islanders in this phenomenon?

Sport in the Pacific
Sport was an easily transported aspect of colonial culture and a cursory examination of sporting pastimes in previously colonised or foreign controlled countries reveals superficially quirky results: cricket in the Indian sub-continent, baseball in the Dominican Republic (and Japan), rugby in the southern tip of Africa and on the pampas of South America and of course in New Zealand. Missionary influence was sometimes apparent whereby sport seen as a means to instill discipline and fitness in newly 'civilised' races. In many ways it was yet another colonial 'tool': not necessarily 'evil' but certainly operating within the context of 'hegemonic desires'.

Of course this was not simply the imposition of another cultures customs but a two-way process. One of the more hide-bound and 'traditional' of English sports, cricket, has undergone extensive 'revision' in the Islands, exemplified by Samoan 'kirikiti' but also revamped on the Trobriand Islands and utilised as a modern expression of traditional social gift-giving. The first South Pacific Games was held in Fiji in 1963 and official sports have played an increasing role in Pacific Island civil life, as a count of sports articles published in the Pacific Islands Monthly over the past two decades (see Figure 1). The interest in sports has been maintained by indigenous peoples across the Pacific, with variations (not just cultural adaptations but also innovations through lack resources) in many instances but increasingly subservient to the demands of wealthier often ex-colonial countries that ring the Pacific Ocean: America, Japan, Australia and New Zealand.

American sports have long been the considered the epitome of professional development. The pursuit and purchase of potential talent is an integral part of 'the game'. Samoans have played in the premier National Football League of the US since 1967 and in the 1986 season, 70 to 80 Samoan players were involved in the highly respected collegiate competition. In the 1995 season 14 Samoans (primarily from American Samoa) and Tongans' (often Hawaiian-born) appeared in the premier NFL competition. One of the main reasons for this presence was attributed to the migration of Mormon families to the US from the Islands.

Sumo wrestling in Japan provides several examples of Pacific Islanders surviving and even flourishing in a sport where size counts for so much. The sport was strictly Japanese until the 1970's when Hawaiian Jesse Kukaulua appeared. He subsequently aided the recruitment of Salevaa Atisanoe who, at 270kgs, was nicknamed 'Konishiki' ('The Dumptruck'). Two others to succeed were Chad Rowan, another Hawaiian (a..k.a. 'Akebono') and Fiemalu Penitani (a Tongan-born in Hawaii). In a contact sports where 'size matters' it seems that Pacific Islanders, and Polynesians in particular, seem to possess the physical attributes that are required.


2. The All Blacks: New Zealand's national team.

"For many New Zealanders, the successful New Zealand sportsman or woman represents the archetype of the battler succeeding against the odds."
                                                                                                           NZ Official Yearbook 1998:36.

Even allowing for parochialism, the achievements of the New Zealand rugby team place them as one of the worlds highest performing sporting collectives. Of 336 international matches to 1999, 241 have been won, a win percentage of 72%. The teams fortunes are followed passionately and losses have even (tongue-in-check but only just) been associated with changes in government. Rugby became nominated as a 'badge of identity.'

Bryan Williams is generally thought to be the first Pacific Islander to represent the All Blacks. First selected in 1970 as an 18 year old, this (New Zealand-born) Samoan went on to play 38 tests over the next 8 years. The next was Bernie Fraser, Fijian-born, who represented New Zealand from 1979 to 1984. Pacific Island representation in the 1970's and early to mid 80's was characterised by individual players: Joe Stanley (Samoan, first selected 1986) was the next, soon joined by Michael Jones. And then, as Figure 2 shows, the pattern of Pacific Island representation changed with two, three, sometimes four, sometimes more, Pacific Islanders selected simultaneously. What were the reasons behind this?
Eligibility for any international team has required a player to either be born in the country concerned, or to have a parent or grandparent born there (the grandparent rule has become controversial as the links seem more tenuous). The IRB rules once required a 36 month stand-down between representing one country and turning out for another. However, a 'gentlemen's agreement' was in operation between New Zealand and Western Samoa which allowed players until February 15th of each season to declare their intentions, a reflection of the 'special relationship' which exists between the two countries, both politically and on the sportsfield. This situation arose with Frank Bunce, a Samoan player who represented Western Samoa during the 1991 Rugby World Cup and New Zealand at the 1995 event.

Obviously the increasing Pacific Island presence in New Zealand society from immigration and a high population growth rate has led to an increasing pool of people eligible for various New Zealand rugby teams. This representation is considerably above what could reasonably be expected on a population basis and is augmented by ex-Island representatives (primarily Samoan) gaining New Zealand Rugby Football Union (NZRFU) contracts.


Table 1: Rugby Player numbers by country.


Country Playing Numbers
1. England 541,000
2. South Africa 308,000
3. France 241,200
4. Japan 146,800
5. New Zealand 120,800
6. Australia 111,350
7. Ireland 64,900
8. Argentina 55,250
9. Fiji 55,100
10. Wales 53,250
11. Canada 47,000
12. Scotland 43,100
13. Italy 36,600
14. US 30,200
15. Spain 14,800
16. Samoa 14,300
Source: IRB.

In the debate over professionalism in rugby, many commentators were of the opinion that New Zealand would struggle to compete at the level supporters were accustomed to, given the limited resources including sponsorship. Table 1 shows that New Zealand may not have the much vaunted 'player depth' that has historically been given as a reason for the success of the All Blacks. However, the regular inclusion of Pacific Island players in the national competitions (especially the premier Super 12 competition) arguably widens the New Zealand 'catchment' considerably. With the International Rugby Board (IRB) passing new laws on the 1st of January this year, a player can now represent just one country during their career. Players will now be required to choose as to their loyalty to team, nation and employer. In this respect, New Zealand teams will have considerable advantage over the less-resourced teams of Samoa, Fiji and Tonga.

As has been noted, sporting occasions are a focus for nationalism. In this context, are the All Blacks accepted as representative of New Zealander society? Ethnically, on a population basis Pacific Islanders are over-represented, Chinese and Indian New Zealanders (and Pakeha) are under-represented. Yet this was not commented on by those whose opinions were sought. What people did comment on was the overtly corporate nature of the game at the highest levels.

'They're expected to win at all costs and we're not like that as a nation.'

'No. A Lot of New Zealanders aren't captured by the rugby scene.'

'They're a bunch of overpaid %@#*!'


The modern era has seen an increasing awareness of the players as the prime asset in the sport. They receive support in areas which simply were not recognised in previous eras: psychological counseling, financial advice, training camps, individually tailored programmes, greater recognition of partners and families. Oh, and money. Sometimes lots of money, and while many supporters acknowledge that top players deserve their salaries, it seems to be a factor in alienating the national team from the widespread support that was once enjoyed.

3. Provincial Rugby in New Zealand: Pacific Islanders and the professional era.
All grades of opinion, from the university professor to the navvy, the socialist, the freethinker…any class of religious thought…the black man, the brown man and the white man have all one common place on the rugby field"
Daniel McKenzie, 1911.

How does money change a simple (some would say simplistic!) game like rugby. The game itself was introduced to the Pacific by British soldiers in Fiji in 1880 although the Fiji Rugby Union was not founded for another 33 years. In Samoa it was the Marist Brothers religious order at the beginning of the 1900's, and for Tonga the first game was played in 1923. In New Zealand rugby spread with surprising rapidity in the last quarter of the 19th century, quickly supplanting soccer and Australian Rules. Provincial boundaries remained relatively stable over an extended period of time and a national competition was established in 1975. The main most tumultuous episode in world rugby came with the professionalisation of the game in the 1990's. 'Shamateurism' had been acknowledged for some time, under-the-table payments, incentives and the variable incorporation of professional attitudes and ideals. Although a similar occurrence in the late 19th century saw the game split into two 'codes' (union and league), tradition had established a certain ethos within rugby union which administrators, particularly those based in the Northern Hemisphere (the 'Home' Unions of England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales) were loathe to dilute.

One of the initiatives of the three major Southern Hemisphere Unions (New Zealand, Australia, and South Africa) was the Super 10 competition involving teams from New Zealand (4), South Africa (3), Australia (2) and the winner of the annual Pacific Island tournament contested by Samoa, Tonga and Fiji. For the Samoan team (the regular winner) this was seen as being an invaluable opportunity to raise the standard of their game so as to be better able to compete against the major powers. The realities of Samoan migration meant that practises were held in Auckland which also became their 'home' ground. When the Super 10 was supplanted by the Super 12 in 1996, the Pacific Island component was unceremoniously dumped from the competition.

The 1998 Super 12 season saw 43 Pacific Island players attached to teams. An investigation of the players from this (2000) season reveals 37, just over 9%. What's more, as no Pacific Islanders were appearing for South African teams, the number involved was spread between five New Zealand and three Australian teams: for the New Zealand teams it is over 18%.

Spectator sport has always appealed to community loyalties but this perspective has been altered somewhat by the advent of professionalism. Cheering for the home team once meant supporting local talent: their success could then reflect glory upon the community that had produced and trained them. This factor was an obvious element in the glorification (some would say deification!) of winning All Black teams. Professional sport now trades in talent that has been disconnected from place. This has been apparent in North American sports of ice hockey, American football, basketball and baseball for some time now and is now an accepted part of European soccer. In New Zealand with the advent of the Super 10 and its successor the Super 12 a similar process has begun, with a 'draft' of players and much movement of players around the country and the Pacific. Individuals (such as Frank Bunce) have been associated with more than one country and many are now associated with two or more provinces or clubs, often spending the last few seasons of their playing careers enjoying lucrative contrtacts in France, Japan, Italy or the UK or taking up a rugby league offer again often in the UK or possibly Australia.

4. What are the implications for the Pacific Islands?

"The Pacific Islands have become international rugby's most fertile nursery with offspring succeeding from Tonga, Samoa and Fiji…"
                                                                                                                        Sydney Morning Herald

As has been amply, even overly, emphasised in New Zealand's history, sport is a powerful factor in national identity and the relationship between the global media and sport this has made this even more prevalent. For smaller, less globally known, nations, the pride in sporting achievements is joyfully celebrated. Nauruan Marcus Stephen (a 3-time medal winner from the 1990 Commonwealth Games) said "Yes it's good for my country. It's put Nauru on the map".

New Zealand-based players were a feature of the successful 1991 Western Samoa team and in that context labour migration was a bonus for Pacific teams. As Figure 3 shows, various players - some born in New Zealand, a few in Samoa - have turned out for both countries. What is now apparent for is that the movement of talented players from Island clubs and national teams means their national teams are less able to compete than previously (and the gap was always there). As Table 2 shows, with the advent of the professional era the gaps in performance between New Zealand and its Pacific neighbours has increased.

Table 2: Pacific Island teams versus New Zealand

Year Fiji Samoa Tonga
1987 Lost 14 - 74
1993 Lost 13 - 35
1995 Lost 9-45
1996 Lost 10 - 51
1997 Lost 5 - 71
1999 Lost 13 - 71
2000 Lost 0-102

Further, it is now obvious that an increasing number of Pacific Island players do not represent Pacific Island clubs but are playing for New Zealand provinces or Australian, British or Japanese clubs. Maps 1-3 show the change in club affiliations for the players of Western Samoa: players are increasingly based in other countries. The trend situation also exist for Tonga (Map 4) and the temporal changes most obvious for Fiji (Maps 5 and 6).

Pacific Island players made an immediate impact on the game of rugby in New Zealand. The winning Auckland team of 1996 included six Samoans, three Tongans' and two Fijians, one of whom (Joeli Videri) was named the Super 12 Player of the Year. Yet divided loyalties quickly became evident: of the 43 players of Pacific Island heritage playing for Super 12 teams in 1998, only 13 declared themselves available to represent their 'home' country.
There are other implications. It has been argued that as sport science and defensive tactics are seen to succeed and as knowledge of them is globalised, the differences of style are diluted. Many respondents expressed their belief in and enjoyment of Pacific 'flair'.

'They take risks whereas under pressure [Europeans] are more likely to play routine…Pacific Islanders have more flair'.


The expression of flair is regularly mentioned in media coverage, along with the physical nature of Pacific Island play. However, the need to attract and retain sponsors requires good results and the spread of New Zealand coaches indicates that if there is such a process, i.e. winning at the expense of entertaining, then it most certainly can be disseminated about the Pacific. Tongan coach, Dave Waterson, was born in New Zealand and also helped coach South Africa during their (successful) 1995 World Cup Campaign. Waterson wanted to mould 'Pacific flair with Springbok tenacity'. Fiji has recently been coached by ex-All Black Brad Johnston, who had 5 years in charge. Concerns that Pacific Islanders may be underrepresented in coaching and management positions lacks enough data at this stage. That Western Samoa had Bryan Williams at the helm for many years, and that Joe Stanley coached in Japan and others have indicated their willingness to remain involved in the game, gives hope that this phenomenon (observed in the US with respect to Afro-Americans and Australian rugby league with Aborigines) will not become entrenched in New Zealand or Pacific rugby.

Pacific Island nations have not taken this threat to their game passively. The Pan-Pacific Rugby Series, inaugurated in 1996 and including Argentina, Canada, the US, Hong Kong and Japan, was an opportunity for teams from the second tier of international rugby to play each other and improve their standing. Unfortunately, a revamp of the tournament to favour the weakest (but wealthiest) nation, Japan, to take effect from 2001, will reduce the opportunities for Samoa, Fiji and Tonga. That rugby is a useful 'calling card' for small nations was shown when the Japanese Prime Minister, Yoshiro Mori, appeared at a goodwill match between Japan and the Pacific Island composite team earlier this year. Yet do Pacific Islanders still seek and receive pride in the performance of their players as ex-pat individuals instead of representing their home country? This much was explicitly revealed by a Pacific Islands Monthly list of 'The Greatest Moments in Pacific Island Sport'.


1.Fiji's Vijay Singh winning the US PGA golf championship, 1998.
2.New Caledonian Christian Karembeu appearing in France's World Cup winning soccer team, 1998.
3.Tonga's Paea Wolfgramm's Olympic silver for boxing, 1996.
4.Samoan Beatrice Faumuina winning the discuss title at the World Athletics Championship, 1997.
5.Fiji capturing the World Sevens Rugby Title, 1997.
6.Samoans Joe Stanley and Michael Jones featuring in New Zealand's rugby union World Cup winning team, 1987.
7.Tongan Viliame Ofahengaue featuring in Australia's rugby union World Cup winning side, 1991.
8.Christian Karembeu featuring in Real Madrid's European Champion's Cup winning soccer team, 1998.
9.Vijay Singh winning the World Match Play Tournament, 1997.
10.Tongan Jimmy Dymock featuring in Australia's rugby league World Cup winning side, 1995.

Six of the ten events involve ex-patriate or overseas-born Pacific Islanders.

That the islands are now a source of talented players is readily and approvingly trumpeted, as in the Sydney Morning Herald article reprinted above (the headline was 'Islands Produce String of Pearls'). It has always been recognised that for a player to improve it may be necessary for them to move to another province. In New Zealand this has meant talented second or third division players moving to first division provinces. For Pacific Island players, the first port of call has often been New Zealand.

Other aspects of migration can also be discerned in this 'trade'. There is evidence of 'chain migration' whereby one player has 'introduced' another to a future employer. For instance Luke Erinavula is credited with encouraging Joeli Vidiri to New Zealand rugby when he, Erinavula, 'defected' to Australian Rugby League. Another aspect is the sheer mobility exhibited by some of these individuals. Figure 3 outlines the career of T'o Vaega, born in Western Samoa, captain of the 1991 Western Samoa World Cup team and currently playing in England. Vaega played for three provinces and one Super 12 franchise in just over a decade in this country. His movements are by no means exceptional and further research into the behavioural aspects of this phenomenon would greatly improve our understanding.

The family connection is often a media focus and is perhaps more easily understood as genetic and environmental factors undoubtedly play a role in siblings winning top honours or children following in the footsteps of their parents. One variation for Pacific Islanders is that these achievements may cross national boundaries. Thus the Umaga brothers played against each other in a recent rugby international (Tana for New Zealand, Mike for Samoa); Bernice Mene captained New Zealand in netball; her father was an athletic representative for Samoa

However as the club affiliation maps show, New Zealand is not the 'core' country that history would perhaps decree. Rather, as some followers feared and recent developments confirm, New Zealand is at best a 'semi-peripheral' component of the rugby labour movement, surplus in talent and regularly supplying the true core nations which are measured by their wealth and not (yet) their playing ability: Japan, the UK, Italy to a certain extent, and perhaps the US and Canada in the future.

6. Is 'Race' a Factor?

"White men can't jump…(black men can't think)"
                                                                                                                        Gary Younge, 2000.

Commenting on the physical representation of Pacific Islanders dates back to first contact with European explorers, indeed the 'scientific gaze' was quite explicitly directed towards the 'genius, temper, disposition…of the natives.' The 'promiscuity' of the young women ('dusky maidens'), and the stature and 'nobility' of the men were concepts that became fixed and fixated upon by Western discourse. Applications for this were to be found by European industry: the captain of a German ship in 1966 noted the many 'strongly built male inhabitants' of Kiribati who subsequently attracted a training school for seamen.

Certainly race and racial stereotypes have been considered an element in sporting success and failure for many years in the Western sporting world and presumably elsewhere. Medical evidence for a 'genetic advantage' is lacking despite various studies. That Pacific Islanders have a physical advantage at secondary school level is regularly and disarmingly accepted. Is there scientific proof for this? Tonkin in a study on Maori health found that Maori adolescents reached maturity earlier than their Pakeha classmates. Also there was evidence that muscle mass was greater for Maori than Pakeha of the same age. Houghton's controversial study on aspects of human biology in Pacific peoples argues that Pacific Islanders not only have greater body mass but that this has been, in a very short period, environmentally determined. The physical characteristics have been freely commented upon historically, are continually mentioned in contemporary sports reporting and appear to have some, admittedly scant, scientific support.

Certain stereotypes were once freely reported by the New Zealand sporting press, for instance musical ability of islanders and their propensity to obesity. Tropical diets were held to be a hindrance to sporting stamina, in comparison to New Zealand's meat-based diet. In order to see what perceptions were held by New Zealanders, a number of semi-structured interviews were conducted during the 2000 season, often at televised sporting events (the Olympics coincided with some of this research) and especially in front of big screens with those very knowledgeable rugby aficionados that New Zealand produces. The apparent sporting ability and physical advantages of Pacific Islanders (especially Samoans') was regularly commented upon.

'It seems they are [better at sport], physically, because they're represented in a lot of our teams.'

'Yes, but their stamina is not so good…they have harder bones.'

'No [they're not better sportspeople] but they're primo at rugby.'

Socio-economic and cultural factors were also seen as encouraging prowess in rugby.

'Cultural ideas of kinship [help].'

'They're harder people. They're tougher people.'

The interview process saw many respondents volunteer tales of Pacific Island (generally Samoan) violence: in fear if personal, with admiration if simply observed. Some respondents expressed open disregard for any civil ability of Islanders.

'They’re dangerous and dirty'

Others placed 'our' Polynesians in a hierarchical ladder, with Fijians below them and Aborigines and Africans at the bottom.

7. What are the implications for Pacific Island New Zealanders: Is 'Race' an Issue?
Although it is quite possible, even admirable, to appreciate sport with the connoisseur's delight in excellence, it is much more commonly observed and promoted as a partisan drama structured around contests between representatives of different communal groups. This has in the past verged on the blatantly racist and in modern cosmopolitan nations, inter-ethnic rivalry has been continued in sports where it first began in violent conflict. In this respect the contribution of rugby to the construction of New Zealand identity is variously interpreted. MacLean (1999) sees it as a process of incorporating Maori masculinity into Pakeha hegemony. Sport has mirrored certain racial attitudes resulting in 'positional segregation' whereby black players are selected for speed positions in American football or Australian rugby league, and quite specifically excluded from positions of control or influence on the field (Hallinan 1988).

The 1993 tour of New Zealand by the British Lions' team was notable from a Pacific Island perspective in that there were five (of seven) backs who possessed Pacific Island or Maori identities. In the pre-match interviews, Vai'inga Tuigamala made the comment that Grant Fox was an 'honourary big bro', unintentionally expressing the standard requirement of a calm, European influence in what can be a passionate and occasionally chaotic physical activity. This perception was often commented on by followers of rugby and others who were approached for their views.

”They're physically better players, but not brainwise."

"They're far more laid back"


The literature regarding ethnic minorities in professional sport reveals that participation in sport has often been an extension of the social arena and hence racial issues have been expressed on the sportsfields as well as work places, schools and the streets. Much of the American experience tells of the struggle by African Americans to be accepted as eligible for the top (i.e. professional) ranks in a society still racially divided into the late 1960's. In the Caribbean the selection of increasing numbers of non-white cricketers reflected the changing social climate in the region. The issue of race and sport in South Africa has been a factor not just in New Zealand sporting contacts with that nation but also the greater socio-political context with extensive and often violent protests during a tour by the South African rugby team in 1981. Yet apart from this rather unique relationship (which did lead to racially selected touring All Black teams in the 1950's and 60's in deference to South Africa's domestic policy of apartheid) the matter of increasing Pacific Island representation in the national game has universally been seen as nothing but positive by New Zealand sports supporters.

Undoubtedly much of this can be attributed to the egalitarian ethos of the sport of rugby in particular and the general support that successful sportspeople in New Zealand receive. Everybody loves a winner. Also rugby in New Zealand has had to deal with the spectre of apartheid South Africa with its racist ideology and practises that. The role of Maori in this and the support from 'middle' New Zealand has meant that rugby perceives that it has hurdled the major issue of race via one transforming phenomenon. Individual Pacific Islanders have in no small measure contributed to the success of the All Blacks and other teams over the past three decades: Bryan Williams was touring South Africa as an 'Honorary White' at the age of 18. Individual successes are also common: Beatrice Faumuina in the discuss, and David Tua in boxing are two high profile examples. That the individuals concerned have often been exemplary in their behaviour off the field - many Pacific Islanders like Michael Jones, Inga Tuigamala and Eroni Clarke making no secret of their committed Christianity - must also contribute to their acceptance.

In boxing Pacific Islanders are again over-represented (and the upcoming heavyweight championship bout between the already mentioned David Tua and the holder, Lennox Lewis of Great Britain is a case in point). Netball and Softball are two other sports where Pacific Islanders have enjoy regular selection (the one-time Fijian netball captain has just been selected for the New Zealand team in which the top South African goal shoot is now a member). Only one Pacific Islander has been selected for the New Zealand cricket team, Murphy Su'a, a Samoan, and considering that variations of cricket are played by Islanders, the anomaly is even more noteworthy. A comparison of Pacific Islander participation in rugby league (a professional code for over 100 years) and rugby union would be interesting in light of the lower socio-economic status of Islanders in this country. Are poorer people attracted to a sport in which some financial reward, however slight at the lower levels, is openly acknowledged?

Of course professional sport has a close and mutually beneficial relationship with the media. In New Zealand the media has been criticised for limited and stereotyped portrayals of Pacific Islanders (Samasoni 1990; Finau 1990). However Samasoni's observation of prime time television in the mid-1990's in which Polynesian faces were notable by their absence needs to be reviewed in the light of the extensive media coverage of professional rugby with its over-representation of Pacific Islanders. Certainly Pacific Island faces are regularly to be seen although they are predominantly male and either playing rugby or mouthing the traditional sports clich├ęs and thanking sponsors. Sports commentators regularly struggle and mispronounce Pacific Islander names, thus Viliame Ofaenguae became Willie O and Vai'inga Tuigamala became Inga the Winger. However there does appear to be a growing number of sporting celebrities of Pacific Island and Maori identity who have roles as media commentators and the worst excesses of a monocultural media will hopefully be avoided.

Efforts at describing the ability and performance of Pacific Islanders in rugby regularly utilises words like 'bigger', 'explosive' and 'intimidating'. The media likewise resorts to certain stock phrases and exaggerations: Jonah Lomu was described as 'Seven foot tall with legs as big as tree trunks' when he began his career. A moment in a game between Fiji and a British team was summarised as 'the massive Fijians…turned on the brute force'. The Tongans' who toured New Zealand this season were described as 'robust islanders'.

The identification and training of potential professional players now begins at high school level in New Zealand. In February 1997, Aranui High School in Christchurch opened its own Sports Academy. The initiative originated from a realisation that often the one positive thing in the lives of failing students - many of them Maori and Pacific Islanders - was sport. The focus on sports, however, is not universally accepted. MP Winnie Laban, a Samoan-New Zealander, has expressed anger that Pacific Island students win sports awards and academic awards are more likely to be picked up by Europeans or Asians.

"Our young people need a life beyond rugby. They need to be educated"
                                                                                                            Winnie Laban (Samoan-NZ MP).

Other schools have followed suit. However the attitude that Pacific Islanders are not suited to academic pursuits, and that this explains their sporting ability, is a common perception held by Pakeha New Zealanders.

"They're not suited to, yunno, intellectual things…"

With the current government implementing a major policy of 'Closing the gaps' between Maori and middle New Zealand, it is of concern that Pacific Islanders, whose socio-economic statistics are if anything worse than those for Maori, have strongly held stereotypes to overcome.

8. Conclusions
"almost but not quite" 
                                                                                                                   Homi Bhabbha 1987

Worldwide, the era of professional sports in conjunction with global media has dislocated sports teams and sports stars from place. The labour migration patterns observed in this research show that from initially favouring Pacific Island teams with New Zealand-based players, the onset of professionalisation has seen Pacific Island players increasingly tied to New Zealand contracts. Although Pacific Islanders may well take pride in the performance of their ethnic group for other nations, this stems from the weakness of their national sports.

Ashe (1988:xv) refers to 'the primary unanswered question, do Black Americans have some genetic edge in physical activities' and goes on to consider 'that nature, our unique history in America and our exclusion from other occupations have produced the psychic addiction to success in sports…'. This research suggests that similar elements are evident with regard to Pacific Islanders in New Zealand. Certainly a significant proportion of Pacific Islanders are now representing the national, Super 12 and provincial rugby teams of this country to such an extent that their presence and images are now used to promote both the sport in New Zealand and New Zealand on the world stage.

The question of exploitation arises in any labour market although of course work and play are not mutually exclusive. Not all players earn large salaries and a career can end with one serious injury. A career in professional sports is generally enjoyed, something which is probably due to the higher status and other 'fringe benefits' as well as the salary involved. However the newly implemented one player/one country rule may one day be challenged by a migrating player who argues 'restraint of trade': it may well be a Samoan player who provides the test case.

The quote by Bhabbha above speaks of the challenge presented by minorities within colonial discourse. Sport is frequently portrayed as something akin to the ultimate meritocracy, the mythical level playing field. In New Zealand this has been a powerful unifying phenomenon and the game a reinforcing ritual. That it now quite literally 'employs' non-normative New Zealand representatives has both good and problematic elements. In positive terms it presents a more multi-ethnic face not just to the world but to itself. Pacific Island communities exist in New Zealand and are duly represented in an important feature of New Zealand life. However, this representation presents a stereotyped image of the Pacific Island (male) as a physically powerful, intimidating character. Interviews revealed that the various ethnic identities involved are blurred into a wider 'brown' body; for instance many Samoan were frequently presumed to be Maori. There is a perception that those who are good at such an intensely combative activity cannot possess intellectual strength, indeed that there is some sort of 'trade-off' between the two. This is despite the obvious individual talents off the field of several outstanding Pacific Island All Blacks and indicates New Zealand has still to accept Pacific Islanders unreservedly into the national identity.


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