It appears that there are some who fear that the promotion of mediocrity would lead to a collapse of all we hold dear.
They worry that if we accept that there is merit in simply taking part, instead of trying to win at all costs, that New Zealand society would weaken, taking with it the All Blacks' dominance of world rugby and our whole reason for being.
All we'd have left would be The Lord of The Rings, some rather nice scenery and our response to Covid to put us above Luxembourg in the Top Country rankings. Let me clarify:
I'm not saying mediocrity should be a goal:
Being just "OK" is not something that we should aim at - but it should be recognised as an acceptable destination if that's where we find ourselves. As most of us are predestined to be mediocre in both sport and commerce, it's probably best to learn to be happy with that rather than risk being miserable forever.
For example, while not everyone has the ability to be an elite athlete, it certainly doesn't mean you shouldn't try. However, the idea that "second place is just first loser" is infantile trash-talk usually from saddos who maybe won something at primary school and don't want you to forget.
Why is New Zealand so awesome at rugby?
There are a number of reasons why the All Blacks are so bloody good, but I reckon that the main one is that rugby takes first pick of the majority of skilled athletes in the country, i.e. If you're fit and like running around banging into people you will almost undoubtedly play rugby.
This is not the case in any other country in the world, all of which have more popular sports which snaffle the best athletes. The nearest equivalent to us is probably Wales, but even British and Irish Lions legend Sam Warbuton noted that the only reason that he and his Welsh team mates played rugby was that they weren't good enough to play professional football.
Keen but crap
Few things in life have given me as much pleasure as sport. I have spent decades playing sports at school, university, work, with mates and random strangers who were a player short.
Yet, all of this participation took place without the slightest evidence of talent on my part. I was the epitome of "Keen But Crap", which is a close relation of "All The Gear But No Idea". My greatest prowess at football, cricket, rugby, chess (chess?), indoor netball and softball was the ability to turn up on time.
Still, nobody who has ever tried to organise a sports team will underestimate the importance of players actually being when they're supposed to be. As Woody Allen said: "80 per cent of success is showing up."
My highlight from decades of sporting mediocrity was being runner-up in the inter-mural football league at university. Making students play at 10am on Sunday mornings was tortuous and meant that by far our toughest opponent was our hangovers.
Should I not have been quite so keen to play sport? Was my constantly underwhelming participation an insult to those who see winning at any cost as the only acceptable reason for playing?
What is sport for?
It turns out that the main object of sports is actually not to regularly humiliate the English and the Aussies. It is to get Kiwis of all shapes and sizes fit, healthy, having fun and learning vital life lessons about winning, losing and how to wash mud out of their ears.
I doubt it is coincidence that the statistically most obese country in the world, the USA, is also the country whose most popular sport is the most complex and thus also the least accessible.
Proportionally half as many Americans play American football as Kiwis play rugby. And before any passing Americans threaten me with their doughnut salads, I love the game and have both organised and played American football. (I am to grid-iron what the camel is to needlework, but you probably guessed that.)
New Zealand Rugby, co-supporters of mediocrity
In my quest for the promotion of the mediocre, I am happy to count New Zealand Rugby as an ally. NZR are currently adapting their structure to promote lesser players as demonstrated in their 2020 Participation Changes:
"We know that while some participants play with a goal of reaching their highest potential ... rugby needs to cater for everyone."
"The objective of the new framework is to improve the breadth and depth of those participating in rugby."
While they refrain from using the word "mediocrity", their inference is the same: we need more people playing the game at whatever level they can manage.
The larger the pyramid, the stronger the peak of that pyramid will be.
So if giving kids a medal for just taking part encourages them to take part, then do it.
I hope Grantland Rice will forgive me for changing one word from his famous quote:
"It matters not that you won or lost, but that you played the game."
• Paul Catmur was a founder member of Real Bastardos, runners up in the 1982 Southampton University Sunday morning Inter-Mural Football League. This is a series of articles about how to make the best out of not being the best