Rugby must keep evolving to stay relevant for future Kiwi generations

EDITORIAL

New Zealand Rugby has reached a laudable milestone as it celebrates 125 years and although its future is in some ways uncertain, rugby remains the country’s most popular sport.

Since the first rugby game was played at Nelson in 1870, it has evolved and spread to become the country’s national sport — with vast international success that includes a formidable All Blacks reputation and three world cups.

It is a deep part of New Zealand culture and although other sports like rowing and yachting have also enjoyed success, they sit in its shadow. Cricket actually started earlier, in 1842, but has nothing like rugby’s status.

It is no exaggeration that All Blacks are role models for young New Zealanders — men who are tough and unyielding on the field . . . with recently-retired Richie McCaw taking that to a higher, more rounded level.

It is an image that does not sit happily with everybody. Critics say too much attention is given to rugby and polls show a significant part of the population actively dislikes the game and its influence.

There is no question that the game faces challenges.

Like many other sports, it has player numbers that are static or falling. All codes have to wrestle with the drop-off that comes when young people leave school.

So many leisure activities, such as surfing, look popular to a generation that does not care for the training and dedication needed for rugby. The game risks becoming a largely spectator sport, like American football.

The professional era has had a big impact on grass-roots rugby. Club rugby has been sidelined to some extent and the national competition exists in the shadow of Super Rugby.

Chief executive Steve Tew says rugby has evolved massively over the years and must remain relevant for future generations.

Rugby’s image was not helped by a series of recent incidents that showed a poor attitude towards women. All that, however, has failed to seriously dent the game’s image. It will continue to be a big part of New Zealand life long into the future.

New Zealand Rugby has reached a laudable milestone as it celebrates 125 years and although its future is in some ways uncertain, rugby remains the country’s most popular sport.

Since the first rugby game was played at Nelson in 1870, it has evolved and spread to become the country’s national sport — with vast international success that includes a formidable All Blacks reputation and three world cups.

It is a deep part of New Zealand culture and although other sports like rowing and yachting have also enjoyed success, they sit in its shadow. Cricket actually started earlier, in 1842, but has nothing like rugby’s status.

It is no exaggeration that All Blacks are role models for young New Zealanders — men who are tough and unyielding on the field . . . with recently-retired Richie McCaw taking that to a higher, more rounded level.

It is an image that does not sit happily with everybody. Critics say too much attention is given to rugby and polls show a significant part of the population actively dislikes the game and its influence.

There is no question that the game faces challenges.

Like many other sports, it has player numbers that are static or falling. All codes have to wrestle with the drop-off that comes when young people leave school.

So many leisure activities, such as surfing, look popular to a generation that does not care for the training and dedication needed for rugby. The game risks becoming a largely spectator sport, like American football.

The professional era has had a big impact on grass-roots rugby. Club rugby has been sidelined to some extent and the national competition exists in the shadow of Super Rugby.

Chief executive Steve Tew says rugby has evolved massively over the years and must remain relevant for future generations.

Rugby’s image was not helped by a series of recent incidents that showed a poor attitude towards women. All that, however, has failed to seriously dent the game’s image. It will continue to be a big part of New Zealand life long into the future.

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