Dylan Cleaver's Midweek Fixture
For a country that prides itself on punching above its weight in the sporting world, we still suffer from an acute case of cultural cringe.
The flashpoint for this column might be Andreas Heraf and his "delusional" – Abby Erceg's word, not mine – summation of Sunday's mood-killing performance from the Football Ferns but the bumptious Austrian is really just a symptom of a more general malaise.
Despite an astonishingly rich sporting history we still don't trust ourselves to run it. The people who make key decisions on sports appointments here suffer from a deep-seated case of xenophilia.
The most valuable trait you can bring to the interview room is an accent.
The football folk of New Zealand can't feign shock that we end up with a Heraf when the sport has always been historically bad at overlooking local talent. The current CEO is an English banker with some rugby administrative experience. Since his appointment, most of the national coaching roles have gone to Europeans.
It is institutionalised bias and while it might have been acceptable in the 1960s and '70s when the damn colonials needed educating on the finer points of the round-ball game it speaks to nothing more than laziness and expedience that these roles keep getting filled by men with CVs that fall a long way short of compelling.
Football is no longer a minority sport. By some metrics it is the most popular game in the country. So when are we going to start trusting those that have grown up with the sport here and understand what makes our footballers – men and women, boys and girls – tick?
New Zealand Football is being picked on but they're far from the only administration that goes weak-kneed at the sight of a well-placed umlaut, the sound of some cockney slang, the sonic boom of an American or the nasal twang of our nearest and dearest neighbours.
The amount of unfit, modestly talented American coaches and players that have (dis)graced our National Basketball League over the years could fill a book, but the opening chapter would have to be reserved for Dan Wright, a Los Angeleno who ended a stint with North Shore by holding up a gas station.
Swimming, athletics, tennis… they've all preferred to look outside the tent.
Cricket went through a phase of wanting to be like Australia, so employed Ric Charlesworth and John Buchanan in helicopter roles. They were touted as change agents but nothing of note changed until wee Mikey Hesson of Maori Hill came on board in a hands-on position.
Hesson leaves as arguably New Zealand's greatest cricket coach. To be blunt, I thought he was a cost-saving appointment rather than the best candidate but he proved me hopelessly wrong and you wonder how many coaches and administrators are out there waiting for the opportunity to prove others wrong?
This is not a call for a Little New Zealand approach, nor does it try to minimise the many wonderful foreign coaches (and the odd administrator) who have made immeasurable contributions to the sporting landscape but it is a call to at least look inward.
That should start at the top but it just so happens the most glaring example of this awkward phenomenon sits at the pointiest end of New Zealand sport.
The appointment of Australian Michael Scott to run High Performance Sport New Zealand should feel like a slap in the face.
(He replaced a Canadian, of course.)
I don't know Scott from a slab of VB, but if we care about administrative pathways in this country we should all give a XXXX about how somebody with consecutive two-year stints at Rowing Australia and Swimming Australia is elevated above homegrown candidates.
In a first-class piece of corporate waffle, High Performance Sport NZ chairman Paul Collins said of his selection: "[Scott] understands what it takes to be the system leader, but also brings the critical perspective of our partners, national sport organisations, as well as the high-performance systems of Great Britain and Australia."
Really, the only explanation he needed was the last four words of that sentence.
If the country's leading high-performance sports agency picks a modestly credentialed Australian to fill the most important role in the building can we really be surprised when other national sporting organisations invariably choose to look yonder?
There is a sport that has been notably absent from discussion to this point. Rugby's governing body is far from perfect but the one thing you have to admire is they've never been embarrassed about their New Zealand-ness.
They've been quite successful over the years, I hear.
Nothing better exemplifies the old cliché that there's a thin line between love and hate like a Fifa World Cup.
There's nothing quite as wonderful and wretched as the world's most popular single-sport tournament.
Just to make one thing perfectly clear, football is not the issue here. The issue here is Fifa and Russia itself. They're a match made in hell, those two.
In a recent interview with rugby player Marty Banks, he talked about how he was only paid once during a season in the Russian city of Krasnoyarsk, and that the money was hand delivered to him in a paper bag on the day before he was leaving.
So of course Russia had the inside running on securing hosting rights. That same scenario, which so discomfited Banks, is a Fifa official's wet dream. That's why 17 of the 24 executive committee members who voted for Russia (and Qatar in 2022) have been found guilty of, or have been accused of, corruption or ethics rules breaches.
Fifa, the Federation Internationale de Football Association, is an extraordinary organisation. As a body it has achieved many stupendous feats but none quite as inconceivable as making the International Olympic Committee look as ethically sound as Save the Children by comparison.
Russia somehow seems like the perfect host for this rotten organisation.
It's going to be wonderful.
THE WEEK IN MEDIA ...
A simple idea well executed. George Caulkin of The Times interviews one player from each of England's World Cup campaigns going back to 1954.
The headline "How the Women of the U.S. Gymnastics Team Found Their Voice" gives a strong clue as to the contents of this weighty, disturbing and, at times, overly dense, piece from Vanity Fair.