ANY GIVEN MONDAY
Three "learnings" from the final weeks of sport's lockdown.
The perfect story for these times
Not once have I regretted my decision to consciously uncouple from Twitter, until one urgent morning last week when a colleague asked me if Kiwi sport journalist James McOnie's tweet had any merit. What was this tweet I'd missed?
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Coup alert!🚨 Kane Williamson's test captaincy is under threat. Apparently coach Gary Stead favours fellow Cantabrian Tom Latham as skipper. It'd be easier on the ego to take the T20 job from Kane, to ease his workload, but that's not the preferred plan. #Canterburymafia (1 of 2)— James McOnie (@JamesMcOnie) May 19, 2020
Also, there's a lot of drama surrounding the internal NZ Cricket player rankings, which determine pay. A few players have leapt up the rankings without the stats to back it up. Will post more details soon but I'm tired from watching #TheLastDance and Storage Wars. (2 of 2)— James McOnie (@JamesMcOnie) May 19, 2020
Classic late-night news dump, with just the right mix of palace intrigue and credibility to prompt a mainstream media follow-up. NZ Cricket responded with: "There's absolutely no truth to any suggestion Kane's captaincy is under threat".
This is sort of true, but given everybody's restricted travel movements, how hard can it have been to get Stead to make a strong statement himself?
Perhaps his ethical compass wouldn't allow it.
I would suggest that if you removed the first two words and the flashing red siren emoji that accompanied it, NZC knew that in less than 100 words, McOnie's thumbs cut extremely close to the bone.
It is no secret in cricket circles that amicable as the personal relationship might be between captain and coach, they don't look at the game or, more pointedly, the concept of team the same way.
To generalise, Stead believes that a team is the sum of 11 parts that you can plug in and play on any given day. Williamson has a far more Zen-like approach to team building that values nebulous concepts like loyalty and trust.
What's also true is that Stead lost an influential chunk of the dressing room during the disastrous tour to Australia: not in an overt way where talk of rebellion (or "coup alert!") hangs in the air, but in subtle ways where talk of dissatisfaction quickly finds the ears of people like McOnie and me.
There's no question that Stead's job would be easier if he had the compliant Latham as his front man. Latham's playing career has been closely wedded to Stead's coaching path. In some ways, too, it's understandable. When a coach's reputation is at stake, why shouldn't they have "their" people in charge? It worked out pretty well for Mike Hesson, didn't it?
The key difference is there is no valid cricket argument for the reins to be taken from Williamson. He might not have had a vintage 2019-20 season but he remains New Zealand's best player, certainly in tests and one-dayers, and he's the smartest guy in the room too.
If Stead tried to take one of Williamson's (c)s away he'd stand accused of the worst crime you can commit as a coach: making decisions in the best interests of yourself, not the team.
NZC has some serious work to do before this tumbles off Twitter and morphs into something much larger – something closer to a coup.
Rugby's kingmakers have been living in a sandcastle watching the tide come in
OK, so I've spent a bit of time watching Vikings and The Last Kingdom during lockdown and have Cnut at the front of my mind. He had only to get his feet wet to underline the limits of his power.
Rugby's administrators waited until the water was lapping around their necks.
The tide has been coming in on domestic rugby for a long time but they thought they could keep disaster at bay by squeezing every last dollar out of the All Blacks and producing year-round content for cash-rich broadcasters.
It was a bold strategy but one that relied on two things: All Black primacy and an undisturbed content supply chain.
The jury is out on the former, there's no need for equivocation on the latter.
The disastrous timing of the pandemic for rugby has revealed aspects of the sport they had been too willing to ignore; first and foremost that the financial burden placed on the All Blacks was unsustainable.
Other aspects of rugby's crumbling facade have been visible for some time – the deep unpopularity of Super Rugby's tangled cross-border format and the startlingly poor business case for provincial rugby being top of the list – but Covid-19 has brought them into sharp focus.
New Zealand Rugby needs a new top-to-bottom model. It needs brave, visionary administrators and it needs to change.
The one thing it cannot change is that the All Blacks must keep winning. The only difference there is they alone can't stop the tide.
Don't be obsessed by the size of Sport NZ's pot for sport relief
It's easy to be seduced by the $265 million figure announced for sport in the "recovery" budget but while size matters, in this case it's not the most important thing.
It's the distribution and destination of that money which will tell the story.
A cynical part of me already has grave concerns for the health and wellbeing of this pot of money.
$78 million to modernise the sector by finding innovative ways to delivering play, active recreation and sport by using new technology and research.
I'd really like to see and hear some more detail around this. This reeks of bureaucratic black holes and High Performance Sport NZ job justification.
I'm just not convinced you can throw money at problems and say: "There you go, innovate".
On the contrary, the sports crisis and the recognition that previous models of funding and delivery are unfit for post-pandemic purpose should generate a wave of innovation independent of Government agencies.
The sports sector should feel gratified that the Government has recognised its importance to the country. The best way it can show its thanks is to be extremely vigilant about how and where that money is spent.
THE MONDAY LONG READ
I'd given up on the one-time industry gold standard Sports Illustrated. Then someone pointed me in this direction. It was worth it.