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The Dark Underside to New Zealand’s All Blacks

July 8th, 2017 · No Comments · Uncategorized

I am not a rugby fan. Most Americans are not. We have our own collision/territorial sport known globally as American football, which makes redundant a need to see some other incarnation of large men running into each other.

I have, really, only one position, when it comes to world rugby, and it is this:

I always direct my tiny bit of cosmic energy against New Zealand’s All Blacks national team whenever and wherever they play.

And why is that?

Because of the haka war dance.

One of the astonishing realities of world sports is that New Zealand’s rugby team — and only New Zealand’s — is allowed to perform what is meant to be an intimidating performance of stamping, slapping, finger-wiggling, face-making and tongue-wagging before each and every international match it plays.

Cannot blame the Kiwis for wanting to insert the indigenous (Maori inspired) war dance into the proceedings. The problem is that world rugby allows them to get away with it, which shows undue deference to New Zealand’s team.

To mention this is to risk condemnation from Kiwis wherever they will be found, who insist on their divine/cultural right to perform the haka at rugby matches, making a mockery of the concept of equal treatment to both sides in a game or match.

First, let’s get a link to a performance of the haka by the All Blacks. This one from moments before the 2015 rugby world championship.

If you wonder why this is allowed … well, get in line. For those encountering it for the first or fifth time, it is a mind-boggling example of preferential treatment.

No one would argue that New Zealand’s team can try to get themselves revved up for what will be a violent game by doing … whatever they want. Singing, dancing, reading Scripture. Whatever. But in the lockerroom or back at the hotel.

The problem is allowing them, always, to do it on the field, moments before kickoff, while each player from the other side is expected to “just stand there like a lemon while a presumptuous Kiwi signaled the desire to tear him limb from limb”, as a writer for England’s Daily Telegraph put it in 2014.

The author of that Telegraph piece notes how New Zealand insists on its right to do the haka — and at least one version ends with a throat-slitting gesture — and gets its way in part because New Zealand generally is the world’s top-ranked rugby team and is perceived to be a favorite side to watch. And because fans of many nations have come to expect the Kiwi stamping as part of the rugby entertainment package.

The Kiwis “reserve their right to stage it with uncommon ferocity,” Brown wrote. “But when 15 savage men in black are threatening to cut your throat – and this is certainly how the ‘Kapa o Pango’ haka appears … it ought also to come with the right to reply. The trouble is that whenever the opposing team invokes this, it leads to the most frightful diplomatic mess …

“Taking a righteous stand never works, though, where the haka is concerned. The Welsh Rugby Union tried it in 2006, demanding that the All Blacks ensured the dance was all over and done with by the time (Welsh anthem) ‘Land of My Fathers was heard.’ This, after all, is how it is supposed to be: the visitors deferring to the hosts, accepting that the Welsh have the prerogative to put their own anthem on last.

“Instead New Zealand, with that strange air of entitlement, threw a spectacular fit of pique, refusing to conduct the haka on the field and agreeing only to release a video of them doing so in the dressing room.

“A sense built that the haka was, when all the earnestness about its symbolism was stripped away, merely a form of arrogant machismo.”

Well said.

A sure way to get New Zealand stirred up is to note any of the almost guerilla resistance to this unique pre-game prerogative.

This video entry shows three versions of opponents “disrespecting” the haka and (spoiler alert) the final is the most successful — England rugby fans singing their traditional anthem, “Swing Low Sweet Chariot” while the Kiwis’ ritual threats are drowned out.

(Perhaps the most amusing putdown of the haka was led by a former England player, who changed the war-dance moves into those mimicking the movements of the frothy Spanish dance song Macarena — calling it the Hakarena.)

So. I reserve the right to wish failure on the New Zealand rugby team as long as they thumb their noses at the long-accepted pre-contest decorum of international sports.

Today? New Zealand squandered a 12-6 lead and was tied 15-15 by the British & Irish Lions, in Auckland, which led to a draw in the three-game series between the two in a series the Kiwis were widely expected to win, at home.


And you All Blacks … let us know when you are ready to accept international sports norms.


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