Paul Lewis on sport

Paul Lewis is the Herald on Sunday's Sport Editor

Paul Lewis: PM minces, cricket winces

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Prime Minister John Key models one of the new RWC Team 2011 volunteer uniforms. Photo / Natalie Slade
Prime Minister John Key models one of the new RWC Team 2011 volunteer uniforms. Photo / Natalie Slade

It's been a tough couple of weeks for New Zealand sport. First, there's been the ongoing tragi-comedy that is the Black Caps and then the nation reeled in shock at the Prime Minister sporting the new volunteers' garb for the Rugby World Cup.

The first was a bit of a disaster. Preparing for the World Cup by confusing your players and losing consistently is a little like training to climb Mt Everest by throwing yourself down a lift well.

The second was a bit of a disaster, too. John Key, maintaining his Everyman strategy, allowed himself to be garbed in the rather awful purple and teal get-up and then did a sort of model's strut down the catwalk.

Only he minced. He lifted his heels, waggled his behind as he sashayed, flapping his hands. He managed to look a bit like a $15 transvestite hooker in K Rd. Who got dressed in the dark.

Who designs these things? If I was a volunteer and saw that gear and the PM looking like an extra from Rain Man crossed with Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, I'd be wondering how you un-volunteer or at the very least how you book a yurt in Uzbekistan, so they can't find you.

There'll be no problem picking the volunteers out - I mean, teal and purple? And that silly hat? Where's the sign that says: 'Look at me, I'm a dork ...' or 'I'm With Stupid ...' only the arrow points up?

What's wrong with a simple, colourful top and a logo; without the garish purple stripes that look as though the designer spilled the syrah when cutting out the pattern?

When all is said and done, the RWC will not stand or fall because our volunteers look like workers in a new fried chicken fast food chain.

I mention it only because it's been some time since I've traversed a really good conspiracy theory and I wondered: what if the PR flacks who advised Key to do his catwalk stunt were the same people advising the Black Caps? Uh-huh. Arresting, isn't it?

Key has been clever with his Everyman stuff. He seems to have a sense of humour and doesn't seem to mind putting himself in the way of things like this column. There's no doubt he has struck a chord with the electorate - but you can get too much of a good thing.

I don't give a snail's diddle if he goes on Tony Veitch's radio show and has a bit of a phwoooar over Liz Hurley. He's just being a politician; tailoring his messages to an almost exclusively male audience who have probably had a bit of a mental grope over Liz Hurley themselves - although probably not since the Shane Warne revelations. The thought of the hair-plugged pie-eater all over the object of your fantasy affections would be too disturbing.

Sir Robert Muldoon - another Tory PM - used to do the same thing (using rugby as a political tool, I mean; not Liz Hurley ... ). Muldoon used to turn up at the rugby and wander about, giving the impression he was vitally interested in New Zealand's leading sport. As opposed to the reality that he didn't give a stuff and yearned to be in the Beehive cuffing his cabinet ministers about the ears and pulling the wings off flies. Sorry, I meant journalists.

I remember Muldoon and David Lange wandering across Eden Park, pre-test, in front of the old No 4 stand where the patrons - who knew very well what they were doing - roundly booed both of them. Gives you some faith in your fellow Kiwis, that.

Key is using the same theory but applying it in different areas. He must be the most approachable PM in our history - and that's why I think he's got the same PR advisers as the Black Caps. It's rotation. He is rotating himself in and out of media and public gigs and, just like the Black Caps, doesn't mind looking bloody ridiculous.

But you can also get too much of a bad thing. I rang the Guinness Book of Records this week but there is no category for Worst Preparation For A Global Tournament. The rather sniffy bloke on the end of the phone didn't seem to be too interested in creating one.

Our cricketers would win hands down, wouldn't they? And it can't be their fault or that of NZC or CEO Justin Vaughan. I reckon it's those ghastly PR flacks again, planting the same sort of seed they did with the PM.

Just get out there on the catwalk, John. Your voters will love it. They won't think you've lost your mind - or at the very least, your dignity. At another meeting, the PR horse-whisperers must have breathed the same sort of things in NZC's ear: "You're going to the World Cup. Here's what you do - make the rest of the cricketing world think the Black Caps are the worst team on the planet; managed by people who appear to have the IQ of a toothbrush."

I mean, what else could explain the following: First you fire your coach; replacing him with player power and a captain who does everything. Losses follow. So you draft in Mark Greatbatch and pretend he's the coach. Losses follow. After a year of pain, you finally install the guy who should have been coach all along.

But - and here's the master stroke - you make Greatbatch convenor of selectors and allow them not to select the Black Caps' best team and to frustrate everyone who cares about cricket by rotating players. Losses follow.

It's genius, isn't it? Only problem is that everyone now seems out of sorts. John Wright, supposedly the man with the control, has distanced himself from the selectors. Daniel Vettori seems pissed off. Jesse Ryder seems pissed off. Brendon McCullum has been shifted everywhere like an undesirable painting that someone gave you for Christmas and you just can't find the right place for it until you discover the back of the door to the loo. Justin Vaughan might as well be in a yurt in Uzbekistan for all the sense that the NZC has brought to this.

So it must be deliberate, right? It couldn't have been an accident. I am therefore clinging to the hope that, once they get overseas and away from all the clamour (and the selectors) that Wright and the players might even turn the team into some sort of recognisable threat.

If not, well, I have the URL for a very reputable yurt company and I will try and book John Key to do a star turn at my grandma's 94th birthday party. It's a King's Speech theme. Wonder if he'd come dressed as Wallis Simpson?

Or as a Black Cap.

- Herald on Sunday

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