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

McIvor wrestles with new challenge in ancient sport

The combat sport of kabaddi is a big hit on TV in India and elsewhere. Photo / AP
The combat sport of kabaddi is a big hit on TV in India and elsewhere. Photo / AP

Stephen McIvor has grappled with an amazing range of sports during his long stint as the consummate, chirpy frontman for Sky. But the self-described jack of all trades is having to master one of the strangest assignments for a Kiwi sportscaster - the ancient Indian combat sport of kabaddi. McIvor will help host coverage and commentate on the Kabaddi World Cup in Ahmedabad next month.

Did you chase kabaddi, or did kabaddi chase you?

I got an email from the talent scout/strategist from Star Sports in India and thought, 'huh?' Within 24 hours we were talking. He found me through a director I worked with at the PDC darts in Tokyo and Shanghai. Kabaddi is the fastest growing TV sport in India and Asia. They've looked at T20 cricket and thought, 'Why not kabaddi?' They've wrapped it up in flashing lights, made heroes out of the players, made colourful, cool stadiums. It's a big reality show.

No offence, but why you?

I assume they need an English speaking element for an international audience. I'm praying they give me a really good sidekick. Being a front person is my job, but commentary is a different beast. I fly into Mumbai on September 28 and have six or seven days to learn the game. They've hunted me down, so to speak, and are willing to take a risk.

You had one year as a league match commentator. What did you learn?

To have a tough shell.

A lot of Sky sport staffers have been put on individual contracts recently.

Yes, I'm working on a one-year contract now, so I'm a freelancer. I'm 51, I'm getting older. My friends are getting sick, I've lost friends. You get to an age ... the whole change to being my own boss, despite the pressure, is a nice challenge so I can design my life a little bit.

You've been with Sky Sports since the year dot.

I was there for The Opening Shot, on May 18, 1990. It was a little preview show including me, Bill McCarthy, John Dybvig ...

Your first job was ...

I'm from Putaruru, the home of Wayne Smith and Lorraine Moller. I went straight out of school into radio. My first job was at Forestland 1413 AM, the old community radio. I went from Radio Forestland to Lakeland, back to Forestland, to Scenicland in Greymouth ... I did all the radio lands.

Stephen McIvor admits he doesn't love sport and wants to host a light entertainment show. Photo / Dean Purcell
Stephen McIvor admits he doesn't love sport and wants to host a light entertainment show. Photo / Dean Purcell

Your first TV job was ...

The 1988 Telethon in Hamilton. I was the local Waikato-Bay of Plenty reporter. I thought this is my big year, I'm going to bust into it. But it was Simon Barnett's big year instead, and he went on to be the big banana.

What are your favourite sports?

People think I love sport so here's the dangerous thing for me to say: I don't love sport. I like tennis, I like motorsport, I like my rugby league. What I love is live television. That's my drug of choice, and I like to think I'm the best one out there. That's my ego. I got into sport because I wanted to get into TV. I honestly thought I had a talent for it.

Your favourite interview ...

David Lange. He was awesome. I come from a blue family, but I voted for him one year. A great orator like Lange makes the interviewer look great, so long as you push the right buttons. I got a card from [former TVNZ CEO] Ian Fraser saying it was one of the best interviews he had seen with Lange.

Worst moment?

Peter Ropati and I were covering a Friday night NRL game from Brookvale Oval when Nathan Cayless injured his neck and they needed a helicopter. We had to fill in for what we believe is a record 54 minutes. By the end we were discussing whether the Warriors took their own pillows with them when they travelled.

If you weren't a sportscaster ...

I'd be an actor or lawyer. But I thought, 'why the hell waste four years [studying] when I can earn money straight away.'

What about those Warriors? Have they got it right appointing Steve Kearney as coach?

I'd erase that stint he had as Parramatta coach. He's learned a lot since then. He is a thoughtful individual who really cares about his players. Coaching the Warriors has become the hardest job in the NRL and nobody fears their forwards any more. They need a coach who is tough on players, who doesn't need to cuddle them. Andrew [McFadden] hasn't connected with the players no matter what they say about him but I think they've kept him on as the tough guy. I would love nothing more than for them to win a premiership.

What tops your career bucket list?

To host a light entertainment show and do singing and dancing ... like the old days. [Auckland music identity and league nut] Peter Urlich says he'll teach me to sing. He says I've got a half-decent voice.

- Herald on Sunday

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