ANY GIVEN MONDAY
No sport in New Zealand has ever had to do less for free money than hockey.
The sport's ongoing Government funding levels read like an attempt at humour but it's no joke: just ask basketball.
Two reports into the impact of Covid-19 on New Zealand sport – pieces of work that were out of date before they even came off the printer – have highlighted the gilded seat hockey occupies at the top table, and invites scrutiny as to how on earth it is warranted.
For the 2019 financial year, Sport New Zealand budgeted a little under $19 million for its 10 "Phase 1" sports. Those sports are baseball, basketball, cricket, football, hockey, league, netball, rugby, tennis and snow sports.
Hockey's slice of that pie was $4.67m, just a smidgen under 25 per cent of that fund.
Basketball's sliver was $753,000, a tick under 4 per cent.
Keep staring at those numbers for a while. The longer you do, the less sense it makes.
Hockey must be more attractive to schoolkids, right?
Not by a long chalk. According to School Sport New Zealand data, there are close to two-to-one basketballers to hockey players, 26,500 to 14,150.
There must be more Olympic medals up for grabs in hockey then?
Every four non-pandemic years there are six hockey and six basketball medals up for grabs. Yes, you can make an argument that hockey is more likely to grab one of those medals but the fact remains that it has been 44 years since that happened, long before Sport New Zealand existed.
It could be that Hockey New Zealand is a more stable organisation?
Ha ha, no: the Maria Dew report and the subsequent fallout, anyone.
Clutching at straws then, but maybe hockey's positive community impacts outweigh those of basketball?
These things are fraught to quantify, but go and have a look at those playing at your average hockey turf of a Tuesday evening, then go and have a look inside a gym. Tell me which sport you reckon has more reach into what you might indelicately describe as lower socio-economic or vulnerable communities.
There are many who believe hockey has an inside track because the sport has friends in very high places, but the more reasonable explanation is that international hockey runs expensive schedules. The problem with that explanation is that no matter how well marketed events like the FIH World League are, they're meaningless to all but a fraction of New Zealanders.
A Steven Adams double-double in the NBA has more cut-through for Kiwi kids than 10 world league tournaments.
(And yes, it would help immeasurably if Adams finally donned the black singlet.)
A couple of weeks ago, those in charge of North Harbour Basketball decided enough was enough. Much like this column, they cherry picked statistics to make a case that there was "systemic bias" against basketball in New Zealand.
"We ask that you [Grant Robertson, Minister of Sport and Recreation] immediately address the incomprehensible treatment being meted out to basketball by both Sport NZ and HPSNZ."
It's never a great look, holding your caps out and demanding more from a public purse that is already straining at the seams.
If you're a fan of basketball and you suddenly realise that it's not rugby, cricket or netball in your way but hockey, you can probably be forgiven because there's no sensible metric that can justify the discrepancy in Government funding.
To be fair, hockey has done a much better job than basketball of keeping itself in the news lately.
After three departures and concerns in the camp that have been acknowledged by both the chairman of HNZ and by the CEO of High performance Sport NZ, the Black Sticks women presented a united front in sending off former assistant coach Katie Glynn.
"We write in response to recent media speculation regarding the resignation of our Assistant Coach Katie Glynn.
"The media has alleged that Katie is in some way working against positive changes within our environment. We as Black Sticks players absolutely refute these allegations. As she did when she was a player, Katie holds herself to the highest standards as a coach and as a person. Her work ethic, dedication and passion for our team and its success are undeniable.
"We are extremely saddened that Katie has resigned from a role she loves and excels in. The Black Sticks Women have lost an integral element of our team, and offer Katie our full support going forward.
"Signed by all 24 players in the current Black Sticks Women's squad[.]
"Please note Hockey New Zealand and the Vantage Black Sticks Women will be making no further comment."
Well that will be that then.
Can a penalty attempt ever be beautiful?
Asking for a friend, of course, who found restorative powers in Jordie Barrett's 60-metre plus effort on the stroke of halftime in yesterday's otherwise tepid Super Rugby Aotearoa clash between the Chiefs and Hurricanes.
In most respects the penalty is a curse on rugby. It stops play. It takes too long to organise. It takes too long for the kicker to regulate their breathing. It's a largely static demonstration in a sport designed to be fluid; it's rugby for golf fans.
Yet everything about Barrett's kick was beautiful, from him mouthing words to the effect of "I can kick this" to the Hurricanes' decision makers as the penalty was spotted, to the two-step back and high knee lift before starting his five-step run up, through to the deceptively violent follow through.
It was made all the more pretty by the fact it comfortably cleared the crossbar.
One man who didn't find anything pretty in the kick was Chiefs coach Warren Gatland who (rightfully) pointed out that the kick was taken well forward of the scene of the crime.
He, however, has more pressing matters at hand.
The Chiefs didn't go into lockdown; they went into a time machine and travelled back to… 1973.
Super Rugby Aotearoa has provided a nursery's worth of great stories but the Chiefs are the bindweed in your bed of daffodils.
It is rare to see a New Zealand franchise with such so little imagination when in possession of the Gilbert. They have three moves: one-out hit-up; Aaron Cruden slow-motion jink to the line, inside ball; Damian McKenzie slightly quicker crab across the field.
It's all gone south frighteningly quickly for Gatland. He must be looking very closely at those he has surrounded himself with.
THE MONDAY LONG READ
It's not that long but this Sportico piece is startling for what it doesn't explicitly say: that it took the threat of losing key sponsorships for the owner of Washington DC's professional American football team to realise its name was no longer tenable.