Rob Waddell and school principals have gone to battle over the Olympic hero's plans to ramp up the broadcasting of school sport.

A number of Auckland principals spoken to by the Herald feel they had been blindsided by the deal that has seen School Sport New Zealand (NZSSSC), the body that administers and co-ordinates secondary school sport, sign up to Waddell's New Zealand Sports Collective, which offers Sky TV exclusive rights to stream or broadcast a number of tournaments and events.

Waddell and Associates, which owns New Zealand Sports Collective, has exclusive sponsorship and marketing rights to the events.

Auckland Grammar principal Tim O'Connor said he was "not going to be dictated to by him [Waddell]".

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"One has to wonder what School Sport NZ is thinking," he continued. "I would have hoped that the body's primary interest was the welfare of our students, not the commoditisation of them."

Auckland Grammar School headmaster Tim O'Connor. Photo / Jason Oxenham
Auckland Grammar School headmaster Tim O'Connor. Photo / Jason Oxenham

Waddell, in written answers to questions, said the consultation process with schools had taken place over 18 months and was "detailed".

James Bentley, the headmaster of Auckland's St Peter's College, said he only learned of the deal late last week when NZSSSC executive director Garry Carnahan distributed an email to all schools, and he was disturbed by what he read.

"I have serious concerns about the commercialisation of secondary school sport," he told the Herald. "Who benefits from this? I can't see how it's of any value to the kids, which should be the first consideration."

Bentley said, in his opinion, the experience of televised school rugby had proved that the likely outcome was the rich schools getting richer and more parents tricked into believing their kids were on pathways to professional sport.

"This is just an extension into other school sport. I want to know who is making these decisions on our behalf and I would like to see all the financial implications of it," Bentley said.

Waddell says he has the support of a number of principals and that the benefits are manifold.

"The broadcast provides a single co-ordinated platform through which we can support cohesive messages around values in sport," Waddell wrote.

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"Bringing live streaming together under a single banner has enabled schools to have a seat at the table, ensuring that the needs of schools and the wellbeing of students are at the heart of the initiative and that revenue generated benefits school sport.

"We're working with School Sport NZ and [national sporting organisations] to set standards for live streaming of schools content… [and] we're working with School Sport NZ to develop a charter to ensure that athletes/students and their wellbeing, enjoyment and positive development are the number one priorities in all matters relating to sponsorship and broadcast."

Sky TV, CEO, Martin Stewart, right, with New Zealand Olympic team chef de mission Rob Waddell, during the Sky Sport announcement. Photo / Photosport
Sky TV, CEO, Martin Stewart, right, with New Zealand Olympic team chef de mission Rob Waddell, during the Sky Sport announcement. Photo / Photosport

The dispute comes at an awkward time for the country's sport leaders.

Sport New Zealand this week rolled out a campaign they hope will move the evolution of youth sport from one focused on talent identification and high-performance pathways to participation.

"In November we raised a number of concerns with the New Zealand Sports Collective," said Sport NZ CEO Peter Miskimmin.

"These included the further professionalisation of high school sport, child protection, match fixing, gender equity, health and safety, and how the collective will work with secondary schools.

"To date we are satisfied that these have been or will be addressed. In particular we have been pleased to see that sport below under-16 level has been excluded."

Miskimmin said Sport NZ would continue a close watching brief, mindful of the fact too many young people were dropping out of sport, in part because the enjoyment had been lost as the pressure came on at youth level.

"The broadcast of high school sport was already happening and on the rise. It is not about stopping it. It's about working with it… in a way which encourages widespread participation, promotes wellbeing and keeps young people in sport."

Sport NZ CEO Peter Miskimmin. Photo / Photosport
Sport NZ CEO Peter Miskimmin. Photo / Photosport

However, principals spoken to believe the move to stream more school sport will only exacerbate an already overheated arms race for schoolboy and schoolgirl talent.

Principal of West Auckland's Massey High School Glen Denham, a former Tall Black captain, said that in his opinion there was "no doubt" this initiative will increase the talent drain away from low-decile schools to sporting powerhouses.

He said ambitious parents were already nudging their kids in the direction of schools that are more likely to feature in televised games, citing the example of losing the school's best rugby player to St Kentigern College last year. Denham said the issue of "professionalising" school sport went beyond the playing field. "The sporting side of the equation is immaterial," he said. "He was a beautiful kid who we loved having here. We didn't lose a rugby player; we lost a big chunk of our school community and student leadership."

Denham said he was disappointed he hadn't been consulted about the New Zealand Sports Collective deal because he would have pointed out that all the benefits were likely to be felt by what were perceived to be the "elite" sports schools.

"Should the rest of us just run up the white flag? If we do that will be a disaster for New Zealand sport."

Glen Denham, Principal of Massey High School, with students. Photo / Supplied
Glen Denham, Principal of Massey High School, with students. Photo / Supplied

O'Connor said he remained highly sceptical about the need for more school sport to be broadcasted, and he wanted to know who exactly benefited and by how much.

It was reminiscent of three years ago when New Zealand Rugby told principals that the national body would be taking over the running of Auckland's vaunted but increasingly controversial 1A rugby competition.

They were given short shrift then and O'Connor can see a similar outcome this time.

He emphasised that in his opinion the screening "of school sport has not been good for the boys involved" or the sport in general, with the seedier aspects of professional sport creeping through the school gates.

"We're losing what New Zealand sport is all about and this will just make it worse," O'Connor said.

"To date no school has entered into televised sport for financial interests. The problem with this is you're getting a deal on the table and it is a monopoly. That's dangerous."

O'Connor said he had no doubt that many schools will "put their hands out" if money is promised "because if it's forced upon them it is better to get something than nothing".

"The problem is most won't think about the wider implications for the athletes in our care."

Waddell said no schools would be compelled to compete on camera and would not face expulsion from events if they refused.

Sky spokesperson Chris Major said: "If some principals don't want their students to be showcased on the Sky Sport Next platform then we're happy to have that conversation.

"We're really pleased with the positive feedback from sports codes and the athletes themselves since the programme started."

Major said Sky didn't undertake any independent consultation with schools, but worked closely with New Zealand Sports Collective through the process.

She said Sky were not doing this for financial return but as an investment to nurture sport and grow the next generation of fans. There are no arrangements to receive YouTube ad revenue or sponsorship revenue.

Regardless of the merits of the scheme, inquiries have at least generated rare levels of co-operation between various bodies.

When Carnahan was reached he started his conversation by saying he had been "warned" by Sport New Zealand that the Herald would ring.

He also said the "horse had bolted" on screening school sport and that it might as well be done in a coordinated way.

"We had 20 events being live streamed and some we weren't comfortable with and we were getting no benefits coming back to the schools," he said.

The deal with New Zealand Sports Collective, he said, would allow his organisation to keep the levies on tournaments at a stable level, despite the costs of them increasing "five-fold" in recent years.

Following the interview, Carnahan emailed an "update" to principals.

His statement was essentially the same as what Waddell provided to the Herald, saying: "The School Sport NZ board resolved (after consultation with regional principal's organisations) to become involved as live streaming of many national school sport events was already taking place with the number of sports involved and platform providers increasing rapidly in ad hoc fashion."

Last year it was announced that Sky Television was backing the New Zealand Sports Collective project at a cost of $10 million over three years. More than 50 national sports organisations, including School Sport New Zealand, had reportedly signed up to the deal.

Almost immediately several NSO sources started contacting the Herald expressing concerns that their sport had not done due diligence on the deal and that they had been smitten by presence of Waddell, the 2000 Olympic Games single sculls gold medallist and current chef de mission of the New Zealand Olympic Committee.

"As far as my role as Chef de Mission for the New Zealand Team to Tokyo goes, there is no conflict and it is important to be clear on this point," Waddell said, noting that feedback from the NSOs had been "overwhelmingly positive".