Our Truth, Tā Mātou Pono: Monocultural sports coverage has marginalised Māori stars

Our Truth, Tā Mātou Pono: Monocultural sports coverage has marginalised Māori stars

December 6, 2020 | Uncategorized | No Comments

Our Truth, Tā Mātou Pono is a Stuff project investigating the history of racism. Part one has focused on Stuff and its newspapers, and how we have portrayed Māori. Tony Smith looks at the history of how Māori have been represented in the sports pages.

RICKY WILSON/STUFFOur Truth, Tā Mātou Pono: Dick Garratt of the Māori Sports Awards

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Our Truth, Tā Mātou Pono is a Stuff project investigating the history of racism. Part one has focused on Stuff and its newspapers, and how we have portrayed Māori. Tony Smith looks at the history of how Māori have been represented in the sports pages.

Māori have been among Aotearoa New Zealand’s highest sports achievers.

Yet, have often been overlooked or marginalised in a monocultural media environment that failed to support Māori athletes when they most needed powerful backing.

Newspapers did cause Māori sport an egregious disservice in the twentieth century through failing to oppose the exclusion of Māori from All Black tours to South Africa in 1928, 1949 and 1960.The truth about StuffOur day of reckoningOur racist historyTame Iti and 50 years of newsmakingWatch: How Māori view the mediaStuff’s brave new eraOur Truth, Tā Mātou Pono: In full

The meek acceptance of the New Zealand Rugby Union’s (NZRU) racist policy stands out as a particular injustice of Stuff’s review of how our newspapers have reported Māori sports achievements and issues.

Apart from a brief show of solidarity by The Press – which called for the 1949 tour to be cancelled, but supported the exclusion of Māori for the 1960 tour – the majority of newspaper editors merely wrung their ink-stained hands.

Star All Blacks, such as George Nepia, Jimmy Mill, Johnny Smith, Vince Bevan, Stan (Tiny) Hill and Pat Walsh, were denied the chance to represent their country in South Africa due to their Māori heritage.

The Dominion argued in 1960 the New Zealand rugby team should be known as the “All White All Blacks” but insisted the tour should still go ahead.

By 1960, our newspapers were out of step with public opinion. Almost 160,000 people (from a population of 2.3 million) signed a ‘No Maoris No Tour’ petition that year.

While newspapers did report the views of prominent Māori, including Te Rangi Hiroa (Sir Peter Buck), Sir Āpirana Ngata and Erurera Tirikatene, who opposed the NZRU’s exclusionary policy, they did not campaign against it at a time when newspaper editorials were influential opinion shapers.

Dr Monty Soutar speaks at Urenui marae about Te Rangi Hiroa (Sir Peter Buck) in 2015 about the great Māori doctor, academic and politician’s service during the First World War. Te Rangi Hiroa opposed the exclusion of Māori from All Blacks tours to South Africa.
STUFFDr Monty Soutar speaks at Urenui marae about Te Rangi Hiroa (Sir Peter Buck) in 2015 about the great Māori doctor, academic and politician’s service during the First World War. Te Rangi Hiroa opposed the exclusion of Māori from All Blacks tours to South Africa.

Newspapers tended to concur with the NZRU’s patronising patter it would be unfair to expose Māori players to potential vilification by racists in South Africa.

“Seeker”, a Waikato Times columnist, claimed in 1927 the Rugby Union had “shown the truest consideration and honour for the Māori players by leaving them at home”.

If they had toured and been “refused on board a tram by a conductor, the All Blacks in force might have turned the car over”. Seeker concluded his commentary with: “How fortunate we are in New Zealand to have no race problem!”.

The lack of support for Māori athletes was a glaring stain on our sports coverage.MORE FROM
TONY SMITH • SENIOR SPORTS WRITER

tony.smith@stuff.co.nz

That was hardly surprising given the sports media has, traditionally been dominated by Pākehā journalists. Even today, Stuff has no Māori reporters in its 21-strong national sports reporting team.

Scan the Papers Past digital newspaper archives and you’ll find scant mention of traditional Māori sports.

Sport historians Greg Ryan and Geoff Watson noted in their 2018 book, Sport and the New Zealanders: A History, Māori had their own popular sporting pursuits prior to colonisation, including teka (a form of darts), tamahekoheke (spear throwing), karo (where participants evaded and parried weapons), whātōtō (wrestling), running and swimming events and waka hoe racing.

University of Canterbury lecturer Phil Borell has a strong interest in Maori sport.
STUFFUniversity of Canterbury lecturer Phil Borell has a strong interest in Maori sport.

Phil Borell (Ngāti Ranginui/Ngāti Tuwharetoa), a lecturer in Te Māori and Māori performing arts at Aotahi, the School of Māori and Indigenous Studies at the University of Canterbury, has a strong research interest in Māori sport.

He says Māori sports were dismissed as “leisure’’ and “weren’t considered sports” by Pākehā because “they didn’t have the same structure, rules and rigidity” as introduced sports.

Borell says it would have been “threatening [for Pākehā] to see it as sport. Look at the colonial project at the time. You can’t give kudos to the people you’re colonising because that’s a threat to your own colonial position, so a lot of things we did were submerged.”

EARLY MĀORI SPORTS STARS

While Māori became involved in popular introduced sports such as rowing, cricket and horse racing, it wasn’t until they began making a mark in boxing and rugby union that Māori athletes began to attract regular attention from the colonial press.

Former wrestler Herbert Augustus Slade (Ngāpuhi) became the first Māori athlete to garner global recognition when he was knocked out in the third round of a world heavyweight boxing title fight by John L Sullivan at New York’s Madison Square Garden in 1883.

His title tilt made headline news in New Zealand (some six weeks after the fight) with the same report carried by various papers. It described Slade as “the Māori”, (although The Otago Witness chose to insert the word, “half-caste”).

Herbert Slade, the New Zealand boxer, who challenged for the world heavyweight title in 1883.
ARCHIVES/STUFFHerbert Slade, the New Zealand boxer, who challenged for the world heavyweight title in 1883.

Mere months after Slade’s defeat to Sullivan, New Zealand had its first national Māori rugby stars.

Jack Taiaroa (Ngāi Tahu) and Joseph Warbrick (Ngati Rangitihi) were two of the biggest namesin the first New Zealand rugby team to venture abroad for a 1884 tour to New South Wales.

Warbrick was co-organiser of an ambitious 1888-89 tour through New Zealand, Britain and Australia by a New Zealand Natives squad, comprising 20 Māori or part-Māori players [sic] and five Pākehā teammates. The touring party were away for 14 months, playing 107 matches.

Greg Ryan, in his 1993 book, Forerunners of the All Blacks, wrote the British public were not used to seeing non-white people, but the New Zealanders were generally well-received.

Although some media outlets complained the players were ‘not Māori enough’, and a Scottish reporter wrote: “They are not unlike Europeans, that is their resemblance is great when one remembers that they were a savage tribe no further back than a generation”.

SPORTS REPORTING SNUBS

Thomas Ellison proved one of the stars of the tour. Educated at Te Aute College, Ellison became an interpreter in the Native Land Court and one of the first Māori lawyers. It was Ellison who recommended the New Zealand Rugby Union adopt a black uniform with a silver fern motif as national team colours.

The Wellington forward became, in effect, the first All Blacks captain, leading the first officially sanctioned New Zealand team to Australia in 1893.

Thomas Ellison (Ngāi Tahu) captained the first official New Zealand rugby team in 1893 and recommended the adoption of the black uniform and silver fern still worn today.
STUFFThomas Ellison (Ngāi Tahu) captained the first official New Zealand rugby team in 1893 and recommended the adoption of the black uniform and silver fern still worn today.

He later wrote a seminal book, The Art of Rugby. He died in October 1904 after contracting tuberculosis.

At 37, Ellison was a high achiever in both professional and sporting circles, yet his death was all but ignored by The Evening Post, Wellington’s afternoon daily. It consigned his passing to the 19th – and final – item of a Personal Matters column.

The question remains: would his tragic loss have drawn more coverage, outside his native province, Otago, had he been Pākehā?

Legendary Māori sportsman George Nepia on This Is Your Life, with presenter Bob Parker.
SUPPLIEDLegendary Māori sportsman George Nepia on This Is Your Life, with presenter Bob Parker.

It took until the great George Nepia, the ever-present fullback from the 1924 Invincibles, for a Māori sports star to become a genuine household name. Nepia’s name blazed across the nation’s newspapers with his every move, including his switch to rugby league in Britain, dutifully chronicled.

But, Dick Garratt, the Māori Sports Awards (Te Tohu Taakaro O Aotearoa) executive director, who also oversees the Māori Sports Hall of Fame (Te Whare Mātapuna O Aotearoa), says even Nepia wasn’t “recognised till later in life. He was probably more recognised overseas than here’’.

Garratt is also president of the Aotearoa Māori Tennis Association and cites a couple of examples from his own code. “Sir Maui Pomare won the Universities Tennis Championship of America when he was studying in America in 1899, but it wasn’t reported here”, Garrett says.

Multi-talented Ngāpuhi sportsman Peter Smith wasn’t picked for the Davis Cup team in 1947 despite beating most of his rivals, and performing well in an exhibition match against two touring American Davis Cuppers. His exclusion was a case “of the colour bar raising its head again,” Garratt says, and an issue that wasn’t widely reported.

Jack Hoani Macdonald was one of the most talented Māori sports personalities in the 1930s. An Olympic Games rower, he played rugby for the Māori All Blacks and also played rugby league professionally in England.
STUFFJack Hoani Macdonald was one of the most talented Māori sports personalities in the 1930s. An Olympic Games rower, he played rugby for the Māori All Blacks and also played rugby league professionally in England.

Garratt feels the media should also have given greater prominence to Hoani Jack Macdonald (Rangitāne), one of Aotearoa’s greatest all-round sports stars in the 1930s.

Macdonald was a Māori All Black from 1926 to 1935 and won gold and silver medals in rowing at the 1930 Empire Games.

He and fellow Marlburian Lawrence Jackson (also known as Lawrence Woodgate) were the first Māori Olympians in the rowing eight at Los Angeles in 1932. Macdonald joined Nepia in rugby league in England from 1935 to 1939.

Perhaps only his hometown Marlborough Express recognised the extent of Macdonald’s greatness.

Ruia Morrison-Davy in action at a tournament in Auckland in 1970.
STUFFRuia Morrison-Davy in action at a tournament in Auckland in 1970.

Garratt is helping to write a book on the career of Ruia Morrison-Davy who, from Te Arawa and Ngātī Tūwharetoa, blazed a trial for female tennis players in New Zealand in the 1950s.

He thinks Morrison-Davy got more media respect overseas than at home in New Zealand.

She made the fourth round (quarterfinals) at Wimbledon in 1957 (still the highest placing by a New Zealand woman), but that achievement was buried in the sixth paragraph of a story angled on Australian men, in a New Zealand Press Association report published by our dailies.

RECOGNISING MĀORI SPORTS ACHIEVEMENT

In recent decades, there has been extensive coverage of sporting achievement by Māori but their success has tended to be noted in general sporting terms without a specific Māori context.

Michael Campbell visiting his home marae in Hawera after winning the US Open golf title in 2005.
TREVOR READ/STUFFMichael Campbell visiting his home marae in Hawera after winning the US Open golf title in 2005.

A notable exception was a Taranaki Daily News report after Michael Campbell returned to Hawera’s Taiporohenui Marae with the 2005 US Open trophy.

Campbell had played the final round at the famous Pinehurst course, in North Carolina proudly sporting his own clothing brand bordered with Māori motifs.

The Daily News report noted how Campbell paid homage to his tīpuna at Taiporohenui.

“When I holed that final putt, the image that has gone around the world, I looked towards the heavens and I thanked my ancestors for giving me the strength to pull through.

“We are one together, Ngāti Ruanui and Ngāti Rauru. I felt so proud to be Māori.”

The Central Pulse perform their team haka after beating the Northern Stars in the 2019 ANZ Premiership final.
HAGEN HOPKINS/GETTY IMAGESThe Central Pulse perform their team haka after beating the Northern Stars in the 2019 ANZ Premiership final.

A September 2020 report on the champion Central Pulse netball team focusing on improving their cultural links is more recent example of the media going deeper than merely highlighting a Māori sports achiever.

Researcher Phil Borell says there is “a dearth of conversation around identity” in the sporting media, noting reports in the general media, “don’t necessarily celebrate someone’s iwi affiliation, yet for Māori media outlets, it’s of paramount importance”.

“[For the media], they are All Blacks before anything else. There’s a hierarchy of identity there that is quite telling.”

Borell says, for example, UFC stars Kai Kara-France and Brad Riddell have Māori ethnicity, “but I don’t believe I’ve seen them identified as Māori athletes. Their identity is connected back to City Kick Boxing, their gym in Auckland.”

“Think of [canoeist] Lisa Carrington? She’s won numerous Māori sports awards, she’s winning Halbergs, Olympic gold medals… but how often do we speak of her as a Māori athlete? We don’t necessarily see that.”

Lisa Carrington (Te Aitanga-a-Māhaki, Ngāti Porou) is a double Olympic Games canoeing gold medallist.
PHIL WALTER/GETTY IMAGESLisa Carrington (Te Aitanga-a-Māhaki, Ngāti Porou) is a double Olympic Games canoeing gold medallist.

Last May, Stuff published a passionate plea by former All Blacks prop Bill Bush, urging New Zealand Rugby “not to forget the Māori All Blacks, but, too often, coverage of a national team with a whakapapa stretching back to the 1888-89 Natives tour has been treated, almost as an after-thought.”

Papers Past, an archive that dates from 1839 to 1950, has thousands of references to the “`Maori All Blacks” rugby team.

Yet that description fell out of media favour during the second half of the twentieth century, with a general, persistent feeling there could only be one All Blacks team.

That practice prevailed, until recently, despite New Zealand Rugby officially rebranding the team as the Māori All Blacks from 2012.

Former All Blacks and Canterbury team-mates Bill Bush (L) and Tane Norton admire a Māori carving created in their honour for a club rugby rivalry in Christchurch.
SUPPLIEDFormer All Blacks and Canterbury team-mates Bill Bush (L) and Tane Norton admire a Māori carving created in their honour for a club rugby rivalry in Christchurch.

Stories celebrating Māori sporting culture, as opposed to articles about Māori are still the exception rather than the rule.

It’s why a Sydney Morning Herald story, published on Stuff in January 2020, stood out. It included former Warriors’ hooker Issac Luke commenting on how a Māori All Stars jersey meant as much to him as his many Kiwis caps. “I’m a proud Māori man, I’m Māori to the core, and I’ve wanted this jersey ever since I was little,” he said.

The 2010 ‘Māori Sport and Māori In Sport’ study by Massey University professor Tim McCreanor and a team of researchers found Pākehā media coverage “presents Māori participation and achievement as limited and aberrant” and ‘Māori in sport’ articles “subsumed Māori within monocultural sporting codes”.

While that study is 10 years old, Phil Borell did a “quick search on Stuff” in November to see how many specifically Māori sports stories were published now.

“Very little came up,” he says. “I looked at various codes, and there was a report on the Taranaki Whanui rugby league tournament, but at the same time there’s a Rotorua national Māori rugby league tournament every year, and that wasn’t covered, and nor was the recent New Zealand Māori Residents game against the NZRL Residents.”

A rugby league match between Te Ati Awa and Ngā Rauru teams is played in Hawera, against a backdrop of Mt Taranaki.
GLENN JEFFREY/FAIRFAX NZ/STUFFA rugby league match between Te Ati Awa and Ngā Rauru teams is played in Hawera, against a backdrop of Mt Taranaki.

Borell says Te Matatini, the kapa haka national tournament held every two years, is “one of the pinnacles of Māori sporting performance”, yet general media coverage was “almost non-existent” despite it being “a headline story every day for that whole week” in Māori media outlets.

“It attracts global audiences because it’s the pinnacle of indigenous performance. Yet we don’t celebrate it as sport here. But haka is sport for Māori… and because it attracts people from Australia, it’s like a world cup… It’s the biggest stage for Māori sport that we have, yet there’s very little media coverage.”

MĀORI MASCULINITY

Another issue that concerns Māori sports researchers is the long-established trend for media to define Māori sports people by their physicality.

Waikato University Professor Brendan Hokowhitu, now a Waikato University professor, highlighted the issue in his 2004 study, Tackling Māori Masculinity: A Colonial Genealogy of Savagery and Sport.

Hokowhitu aimed to “deconstruct one of the dominant discourses surrounding Māori men, a discourse that was constructed to limit and homogenise, and reproduce an acceptable and imagined Māori masculinity”.

Former All Blacks captain Wayne Shelford was widely praised for his physicality.
ROSS SETFORDFormer All Blacks captain Wayne Shelford was widely praised for his physicality.

This was based, he wrote, on settlers perceiving themselves “as superior and normal, and consequently discredited Māori and tikanga Māori.

It led to Māori being praised for “physical prowess” and a “warrior-like nature”, while limiting “tāne access to privileges enjoyed by Pākehā men.”

Hokowhitu said the “dominant discourse, through many institutions, perversely limits Māori men, and many Māori swallow these constructs”.

Our search shows colonial newspapers perpetuated such stereotypes.

The New Zealand Times‘ obituary of rugby star Jack Taiaroa in 1904: “[Taiaroa was’ “the greatest” player of the groundbreaking 1884 tour, “an india-rubber man, nuggety, strong, fast, and, with all the cunning of his race, he was a Rugby proposition that could only be tackled successfully with an axe”.

Phil Borell says the practice continues today, citing the way “the physicality of Māori players is still discussed by [television rugby] commentators, who talk about Māori being “big, strong, fast, then talk about Pākehā players as agile, wily, clever.”

Highlighting physicality, “tarnishes [Māori and Pasifika] athletes with the media rarely “celebrating how hard they work. Māori and Pasifika kids have to work harder than their Pākehā counterparts, for a number of reasons, including socio-economic factors”.

Rugby league star Issac Luke, pictured performing a haka with the Kiwis, says he values his Māori All Stars jersey as much as his many Kiwis caps.
BRADLEY KANARIS/GETTY IMAGESRugby league star Issac Luke, pictured performing a haka with the Kiwis, says he values his Māori All Stars jersey as much as his many Kiwis caps.

Māori Sports Awards’ boss Dick Garratt is proud of the long list of Māori sports achievers, yet, he says the Māori Sports Awards – started in 1991 by former Māori All Black Albie Pryor – struggle for much general media attention.

“It’s hard work to get the results in [media reports] these days,” says Garratt, who has been running the awards for 15 years.

He said about 18 years ago awards organisers approached newspapers about making a feature of the awards results, but “we had to pay up to $5000 to $10,000 to get it in’’.

Stuff has published reports in recent years, but generally without highlighting iwi affiliations, and there has been little detailed coverage of inductees into the Māori Sports Hall of Fame.

Garratt hopes that will change when the Māori Sports Awards celebrate their 30th anniversary with a ceremony and a three-part television series highlighting Māori sports achievement throughout history.

Dame Noeline Taurua with her coach of the year trophy at the 2020 Halberg Awards.
DAVE ROWLAND/GETTY IMAGESDame Noeline Taurua with her coach of the year trophy at the 2020 Halberg Awards.

Dame Noeline Taurua, coach of the world champion Silver Ferns netball team, is the daughter of late Ngāpuhi leader Kingi Taurua. She asked herself, “what have I read, specifically about Māori [sportspeople] or Māori sport … and to be honest, I couldn’t remember anything specifically.”

As a Silver Ferns player in the 1990s, Taurua “wasn’t one of those put forward to speak [to the media]. I was never one of those people seen as a leader, or captain material … It didn’t worry me, to be honest, I was quite happy just being in the background.”

She believes many Māori athletes “will take a back foot and won’t necessarily put themselves in the front, unless you are told to”. They would generally prefer “to be the supporting person … I think that’s ingrained in us”.

Taurua thinks it’s vital for media coverage to reflect sport’s diversity, and it’s “really important” to have Māori sporting role models.

That, she says, is a “challenge and a function not only of the media, but sporting organisations also. We all have a part to play.

“We’ve only got five million people in our country, and really our strength is our people, and our diversity and uniqueness.”

A waka ama crew on Te Awarua-o-Porirua. Waka racing was popular with Māori prior to European settlement.
SUPPLIED/STUFFA waka ama crew on Te Awarua-o-Porirua. Waka racing was popular with Māori prior to European settlement.

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Original article on Stuff


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