Scotty Stevenson: Time for Super Rugby coverage to match the diversity on the field

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Blues Charlie Faumuina and Bryn Hall during the 2016 New Zealand Super Rugby Launch. Photo / Getty Images
Blues Charlie Faumuina and Bryn Hall during the 2016 New Zealand Super Rugby Launch. Photo / Getty Images

Something struck me at the launch of Super Rugby at The Palace dance studio - yes, a dance studio - yesterday.

No, it was not a twerking derriere or Charlie Faumuina's dabbing elbow (though one would have been preferable to the other) and nor was it the rather odd setting for the entire endeavour.

Instead, what struck me was this: why are there so few young Maori and Polynesian journalists covering this game?

I'm all for New Zealand rugby's calculated and frankly laudable decision to create a marketing campaign that targets a young, urban population for whom the game is no longer - or perhaps never has been - the biggest show in town.

Rugby needs a regeneration of its fanbase, especially in the major centres, and most definitely in New Zealand's largest city.

However, it was all too obvious that most of us gathered in that room would be more likely to have bodies buried in the backyard than have Bang Bang on high rotate on the Saturday playlist.

Worse, I am certain a significant portion of the guest list, when pressed, would tell you that a Jesse J is a 19th Century American outlaw, an Ariana Grande is something you order from Starbucks, and a Minaj is one hell of an ending to a good night out.

Front and centre yesterday with Parris Goebel's outstanding ReQuest dance crew, were Sela Alo and Pua Magasiva, two-thirds of the breakfast team on hip-hop station Flava. Energetic, fun, and not ashamed to join the party, they were the perfect hosts for the occasion.

While they organised the players into a spontaneous dance off, I couldn't help thinking there was barely a single Maori or Polynesian journalist covering the very event they were compering.

I ask again: Why? Of the 10 players gathered in front of the crowd yesterday, six of them were Maori or Polynesian.

The Blues have 28 squad members with Maori, Polynesian or Melanesian heritage; the Chiefs have 23, Hurricanes 26, Crusaders 18 and Highlanders 20. That's pretty much 50 per cent or more of every single New Zealand team.

Wouldn't it be great to think this could translate to the press box.

Rugby is more diverse than ever, but that diversity must be reflected in the way the game is covered, with genuine insights and understanding of how cultural differences impact the way it is played, viewed, talked about and valued.

I'm not advocating for some form of tokenism here. What I am saying is we are privileged to cover the national game, and it is a rewarding and fun job to have, so treat this as it is intended - a plea for more young Maori and Polynesian people to join our ranks.

It does not help that the Waiariki Institute of Technology Journalism course no longer exists. Many great Maori journalists came through that course, including my own producer at Sky Sport, Marcus Kennedy. But there are other courses available and other avenues open and I hope they stand as a genuine pathway to this vocation.

There has been an enduring stigma attached, especially to Polynesian players, that they are shy and retiring types and not good at talking to the media. That's total bullshit.

In my experience, they are smart, articulate and just as capable of fronting a press conference as anyone else. Maybe the real issue is that every time they are asked to speak, it's in front of a bunch of dudes who have little in common with them other than a love for the game.

Hopefully, as Super Rugby heads off into its own new and expanding universe complete with hip-hop soundtrack and dance crew to match, a new generation will emerge not just to watch the game, but to report on it, write about it, and talk about it.

Super Bang Bang may be a clever marketing campaign, not to mention a perfect opportunity to shake your ass, but it's also a call to action for our urban youth to step off the sidelines and into our game.

- NZ Herald

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