A conversation with Black Sticks women's coach Mark Hager came to mind this week as he found himself in a hole of his own digging.

It was another reminder of the dangers of email. One fat finger slip and the sender can slip into a world of woe.

A few seasons ago, the Black Sticks had turned in a stinker of a performance, one of those which had little to commend it. Hager let rip to this writer, who heartily agreed with all his forceful sentiments.


Then after a minute or two, he paused and pointed out, just in case the inquirer was licking his lips at the prospect of a juicy exclusive morsel or three, he wasn't speaking out of school. The players knew exactly what he was saying because he'd already told them in the changing room. No surprises, then, when they picked up the paper, or looked at the website the next day.

Monday's meeting between Hockey New Zealand and the sport's players' association would be an interesting gathering for any passing flies paused on the walls.

HNZ broadly supported Hager yesterday but what matters is how widespread the hurt is at the wording in his email, which inadvertently reached his players just before a key World Cup game in London last month.

Hager is a tough taskmaster, no question, and New Zealand rose to No 4 in the world rankings while he had strong-minded and respected, experienced players such as Kayla Whitelock and Emily Gaddum at his disposal.

They and their teammates of the 2010-16 period were utterly determined to be the best they could and he has kept them relevant in the world game.

They reached the World League Final in Auckland last year and won the Commonwealth Games title for the first time on the Gold Coast in April. They mightn't always have liked his message but they respected it.

Hager hasn't spoken since the email and subsequent fallout emerged. The email was a major error, no doubt. But there's something fishy in this.

Have certain people settled on this as a way to remove a coach who has made life tough for them, or whose approach they don't like? If so, serious shame on them.


A person with considerable knowledge of the situation confirmed Hager is upset at the allegations, while putting his hands up to the email snafu.

This isn't a good time for New Zealand sport as a whole. This is the fourth sport to have run into coach-athlete issues in less than four months. Cycling, football, rowing and now hockey have found themselves in an uncomfortable position. So what's going on?

Then there's their over-arching body, High Performance Sport New Zealand, who are facing the prospect of job losses and role revision as part of a fine tuning of their positions.

No one from that organisation was available to speak to the Weekend Herald yesterday on two issues: how it viewed the hockey issue, and if it had any concerns over the topic of men coaching women's sports teams or individuals, something which has relevance to at least three of the four sports under the spotlight.

It didn't want to discuss the hockey question before Monday's meeting.

On the latter, it responded: "We believe success in high performance sport requires the very best coaches working with the best athletes."