Chris Rattue 's Opinion

Chris Rattue is a sports columnist for the New Zealand Herald.

Chris Rattue: Lonergan deserves high praise

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Sports promoter is this column's top pick for Aucklander of the year, but Mayor Len Brown is just the opposite

Dean Lonergan represents what a big city should be all about. Photo / Natalie Slade
Dean Lonergan represents what a big city should be all about. Photo / Natalie Slade

Being a sporty type, my Aucklander of the year is Dean Lonergan. Hopefully (please, please, please) we'll soon be saluting a mayor to be proud of, who will sort out the most pressing sporting issue that is being left, sadly, in the too-hard basket.

Firstly, why Lonergan? Because he represents what a big city should be all about. The former Kiwi-turned-promoter takes a risk to make a buck and things happen. No doubt he goes to hell and back financially, but he keeps bouncing back.

His Fight for Life epitomises what high-profile sport is all about - star power. It's a good night in or out for many, and has a heart. Much more importantly though, the new NRL league nines tournament - which kicks off at Eden Park mid-February - is shaping as the best thing to hit Auckland in years. The city was absolutely crying out for something spectacular like this. Lonergan and his Duco mates get off their backsides and make these things happen.

The entrepreneurial sporting mantra can change history - achievements include helping break down the colour barrier in America, firstly in heavyweight boxing, and then - most famously - via Jackie Robinson's breakthrough in baseball.

I really admire movers and shakers like Lonergan.

I don't admire Auckland Mayor Len Brown. In the space of a few hours, he lost any chance of my vote.

Just after his sex scandal broke, Brown appeared on television saying he had broken cover with the express aim of protecting his family from the fallout. The next day, his daughters issued a press release saying they loved their daddy. How cynically political is that?

We are left with the high potential for a survival-minded mayor unable to make strong moves, including in the prime municipal concerns of sport and the arts. We need city leaders who are ideas-driven and powerful, a counter-balance to the surreptitious polling, lobbying, and PR which drives national politics.

A new sports stadium has to top Auckland's wish list, yet there is a lack of recognition about the city's sporting demise, and what a brilliant new stadium could do for the place.

The most obvious victim is league, but rugby, soccer and cricket are also stagnating against potential.

Auckland has fallen behind, badly.

One example: there are no official Aucklanders in the current New Zealand test cricket XI (although the rising Northern Districts spinner Ish Sodhi was raised in Papatoetoe and still lives in Auckland). Instead of setting the pace, Auckland sport barely makes up the numbers.

Jack-of-all-trades Eden Park is not suitable for the majority of the city's football requirements. Even the slope of the stands goes against the modern design of stacking decks close to touchlines. The outfit under most immediate threat is the Warriors but soccer is dormant, and Andy Dalton's Auckland Rugby Union must despair at fielding a provincial team in such an ill-fitting base. The Auckland stadium situation is a shambles.

On the league front, the NRL apparently decrees Mt Smart Stadium unfit for finals or test football. The city estimates an upgrade would cost $60 million and won't fork out so Mt Smart is being left to rot. The Warriors are dipping their toes into Eden Park even though it is too big and the wrong shape for their purposes. The game-day rental - as I understand it - is twice the Mt Smart cost and of considerable concern to the club.

Auckland needs to be bold. The answer is to resurrect the waterfront mid-sized stadium concept, and it can have the added goal of being an architectural masterpiece. A cricket solution is also paramount.

We need a charismatic mayor to make it a priority. This is not a big ask - having a great football stadium is standard issue in great cities. The benefits will surely extend well beyond sport. Brown may not have been the man for this job anyway. He certainly isn't now.


Lorde shows up sports sterility

Outside of sport, my Aucklander of the year would be Lorde, the teenage singing sensation who has an interesting mind revealed via a knack with words. Why mention her in a sports column? Because we should bemoan our sterile sporting world which is moulded in control-freak, PR-obsessed boardrooms. By contrast, Ella Maria Lani Yelich-O'Connor is an interesting star.


Cheers for the cricketers

Let's hope the New Zealand cricketers finish the job in Hamilton, and take a deserved series victory over the West Indies. They have put together two excellent performances and are due the accolades. Trent Boult was magnificent at the Basin Reserve.

Our cricketers certainly cop it when things go wrong, as they should in a sport that wants to be a major player. Yet New Zealand cricket is a small fry compared with the numerical, financial, historical and even climatic advantages the heavyweights enjoy. I often feel that through good and bad times, New Zealand punches above its weight, particularly in producing extreme individual talent such as Ross Taylor, Jesse Ryder and Brendon McCullum.

The Richard Hadlee era set standards that have been difficult to maintain and live up to. But whereas cricket is always in the headlights, some other poorly performing sports get away with far worse because they are far worse. Tennis and golf spring to mind - Lydia Ko's amazing rise highlights what can be achieved and also the sad truth about the standards in a golfing paradise. Surfing is another sport that lacks proper scrutiny - teenager Ella Williams became just our first junior or open world champion this year yet in Australia, surfers such as Layne Beachley are world-class superstars.

Back to cricket. I had the chance for a quick chat with national captain McCullum this week, and put the "punch above our weight" theory to him. His reply: "There is no way we can ever think like that."

- NZ Herald

Chris Rattue

Chris Rattue is a sports columnist for the New Zealand Herald.

Chris Rattue writes about a wide range of sports for the New Zealand Herald. He has covered numerous sporting events for the Herald including Rugby World Cups and the 2010 FIFA World Cup.

Read more by Chris Rattue

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