The media is pumping this weekend as an NRL vs RWC battle for the hearts and minds of New Zealanders, but I have some confronting news for them and you: most people like more than one sport.
If you read blog comments and many sports opinion columns, it would be easy to believe that anyone who has ever been to an AFL game finds rugby league poisonous to the eye, that a rugby fan would rather punch himself in the face than watch an A-League game, and that every football fan considers the other football codes the preserve of the Neanderthal.
Such people do exist. You know them. You’ve read them. But they are not the typical sports fan.
Most sports fans consider sport a buffet not a religion.
They’ll snack on the unique skills and athleticism of the AFL Grand Final Saturday and take a bite of the unique skills and athleticism of the NRL Grand Final on Sunday, while salivating at the prospect of Kewell v Emerton in an upcoming A-League match.
Think of it as having pizza Saturday, Chinese food Sunday and looking forward to a roast dinner in a few weeks time.
The vast majority of people don’t think of sport as religion, with one true God and a fatwa to be declared on all infidels from other codes.
New Zealand happens to be this week’s battleground. You know the narrative, say it with me now: “In New Zealand, the All Blacks are a religion mate, there’s no room for anything else.”
Well, yes, and no. The All Blacks are a religion insofar as they hold an iconic status and are worshipped by much of the community.
But there most certainly is room for something else. To suggest the All Blacks are the only game is town is patently untrue. In this tiny nation, they have a highly successful NRL side, a competitive A-league side with its own culture and following, not to mention the NBL franchise, Trans-Tasman netball, successful Olympic teams and many more.
And Kiwis care about all of these pursuits, as well as the All Blacks.
At the NewsTalkZB website this week, they’ve been running a poll asking the core NZ sports audience: Which game will you be watching this weekend? NZ v Canada, RWC2011, Warriors v Manly NRL Grand Final, both, neither?
And what do you know, when I checked, the All Blacks were coming third, presumably because the Canada game is unlikely to be showstopper.
Coming second; the Warriors. Well, it is the Grand Final and against Australians. But number one on the list, by a big margin was: Both
Yes, most people don’t consider it a betrayal of their code to watch another one. Most people can see merit in more than one game.
If it is true in the All Black nation, it is most certainly true this side of the ditch.