Why it's OK the coach can't go to the [basket]ball

The rules were pretty clear and the ethnic sports tournament hardly unprecidented, so why the fuss about the Maori Basketball tournament? Is this Waitangi fever?

There's nowt like a wee ethnic bun-fight to kick-off Waitangi weekend, and it's been delivered this year by a pakeha basketball coach who's been told his team can't go to the [basket]ball because he's not Maori. Cue outrage.

Andrew McKay coaches an under-17 Ngati Whakaue team which won the under-15 division at last year's tournament; he wants to bring the same team this year to play in the older age grade. Thing is, the rules have changed.

The rules on the 2015 tournament's website says all players, coaches and manages must be "registered to New Zealand Maori Basketball Aotearoa" and "all team personnel must be of Māori blood i.e. whakapapa to any of the NZ Māori Iwi".

The concern, even from Race Relations Commissioner Dame Susan Devoy, is that girls are missing out and some solution must be found to allow them to play. Their hopes and hoop dreams will be dashed otherwise.

Others have said 'what if the shoe was on the other foot and a Maori coach was banned from a pakeha tournament' and made comments about apartheid. Sheesh. Ethnic sports tournaments aren't comparable to an oppressive and murderous government based on racial division.

Sometimes it seems like people go looking for a fight on Waitangi Day.

Now it'd obviously be great if the girls could play, but, assuming that the New Zealand Herald story has its fact straight, everyone seems to be missing this crucial line:

"Mr McKay coached a Ngati Whakaue team which won the under-15 division at last year's tournament in Rotorua.

But his application in October to enter the same team in the under-17 grade for this week's competition, which starts today, was initially declined by the organisers because he was non-Maori."

I'm sorry, but the team knew in October that the rules had changed? If they knew 3-4 months ago, why do the girls still have any hopes to be dashed? They knew they couldn't play months ago. Any disappointment should have been felt -- or possible solution found -- then, not on the eve of the tournament. This isn't new and is all in the rules, so if the girls still somehow thought they could play this weekend, isn't the coach responsible for their disappointment?

It's unclear from the story when McKay raised the issue or complained. But assuming he did it pronto, there's been plenty of time for him to make his argument and either win or lose it. If he's made his case and the tournament organisers have stuck to their guns, so be it.

The one question surrounding Maori Basketball NZ stems from this par:

A second application for the team was made with the girls to be coached by Ngati Whakaue descendant Richard Wharerahi. It was declined a second time with an email stating organisers believed it was a front for the original applicant and Mr Wharerahi had no basketball coaching or management experience.

Now it's hard to know if it was a snow job or not, but you'd think that organisers would accept a new coach as the obvious solution, rather than nit-pick about Wharerahi's motivation. Heck, if he's prepared to give his time, so be it. Grab him and train him.

The report doesn't say when this second application was made and rejected, but again, the girls can't have been expecting to compete at this stage. So the 'hopes dashed' argument still makes no sense.

Ultimately, the organisers' decision is entirely consistent with their rules and the values of Maori Basketball NZ, which include:

  • To reinforce the value of whakapapa, Te Reo Maori and Kaupapa Maori in Basketball
  • Provide a Community pathway for Maori Players and officials to supplement opportunities provided through Basketball NZ – The National body of Basketball in New Zealand.

As Dame Susan pointed out:

“Sports codes who wish to grow a sport and strengthen networks within ethnic communities aren’t new: the Warriors sponsor the Ethnic Rugby League competition and New Zealand’s Ethnic Football Festival is a nationwide tournament.”

The ethnic league competition was designed, as surely was the Maori Basketball competition, to encourage new participants to try a sport that isn't played by many folk of that ethnicity. Sports and culture go hand-in-hand and breaking down those walls can be hard. So South Auckland league officials put on a tournament because, according to a Herald story (as it turns out, from October last year), " he Asian and Indian communities appealed as untapped resources... but various cultural barriers saw their young men hesitant to play the game".

That story made no mention of ethnic divides, or special treatment, or players or coaches of other ethnicities feeling hard done by. There was no public outrage, yet the principles seem much the same as with the Rotorua tournament. It's a very positive story about efforts to grow a sport in a community that has not played it very much.

Ditto Maori Basketball NZ.