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.

Comments (13)

by Andrew Geddis on February 05, 2015
Andrew Geddis

I also think that the story isn't as simple as the reported "you've got a Pakeha coach, so you can't play". Here's a longer account from earlier today, which notes:

Tournament director Sue Pene and her husband, Rotorua Basketball Association president Darrell Pene both said that since that email, a meeting was held and an offer was made for the girls to enter, not as an individual team, but under Te Arawa.

They would be split up and trial like other players wanting to compete for Te Arawa.


Mrs Pene said they had more than 100 teams apply.

And on the rules of the tournament, it's clearly stated:

NOTE: Preference will be given to Iwi/Rohe teams and if there is room, individual teams may be accepted.

by Alan Johnstone on February 05, 2015
Alan Johnstone

The story is a typical Waitangi puff piece, yet another example of a day that has lost all meaning for the vast bulk of New Zealanders.

Whoever I'm going to bite and say that ethnically segregated anything isn't ok, esp not youth sport. I've coached kids sporting teams recently, my last soccer team had 9 players and 7 different ethnic backgrounds. Kids don't care about this at all.

Now, you may say, private organisation, they can set their own rules, but would it be ok for a Pakistani cricket club that banned Jews  ?

The entire concept of ethnic sports is intrinsically wrong, it's enshrined in the colours of the Olympic flag.  If you can't see why this is the case, I really despair.

by Andrew Geddis on February 05, 2015
Andrew Geddis

Whoever I'm going to bite and say that ethnically segregated anything isn't ok...

Well, if you want to be the one to tell my six year old daughter that it's wrong to want to be the Rose of Tralee, then you are a braver man than I.

Now, you may say, private organisation, they can set their own rules, but would it be ok for a Pakistani cricket club that banned Jews?

That just banned Jews? No. Because that would clearly be motivated by animus towards a particular ethnic/religious group. Which isn't what this case is about - here's why the Maori Basketball Association (which runs the tournament) exists.

Also, on the substance of the story, this Radio NZ interview makes things even more confused - in it Jeff Green (Rotorua Basketball Association Vice-President) claims that there actually is no prohibition on playing in the tournament with Pakeha coaches, and that there are teams that are currently doing so. So there's much more to this than we're seeing reported.

by Lee Churchman on February 06, 2015
Lee Churchman

I think the apparent rule is somewhat unreasonable, given the standards that generally prevail in sports. Fabio Capello was the England manager for many years, despite not being English; Guus Hiddink, a Dutchman, was the South Korean manager during their famous World Cup run in 2002; and it is not unusual for lesser footballing nations to have a foreign manager (and the same in rugby). IIRC the Olympics allow for expatriate coaching too. The general rule is that the athletes must be from the relevant group, but anything else is fine (for example: there is a shortage of doctors of some ethnicities – what happens when you need a team doctor?). 

I accept that there might be reasons why that general expectation would not apply in this case, but the existence of that general unwritten rule means that I can see why people find this case startling.

by Andrew Geddis on February 06, 2015
Andrew Geddis


Just so we're clear, apparently the apparent rule wasn't a "rule" at all.

"Coaches, administration, referees can be non-Maori, because obviously there's not enough of those types of people available," [Jeff Green] said. "We have a number of Pakeha coaching teams ... In fact we've got an Asian coach coaching one of the Maori teams, so no one is being excluded because they're non-Maori."

And as for "... it is not unusual for lesser footballing nations to have a foreign manager (and the same in rugby)", the same isn't true here. To coach at Super 15 or National level, the NZRU requires that candidates "Must have a strong affinity with or connection to New Zealand ... ." Not exactly the same as saying that you have to be a Kiwi to coach Kiwi teams, but near as dammit.

by Tim Watkin on February 06, 2015
Tim Watkin

Also, let's look at all the restrictions around sports and sporting events. What if a team of 20 year-olds wanted to play in the under-15 grade? Is that ageism? What about women in a men's league or vice versa? Or a Scot wanting to play in Capello's English team?

I mean, only 'Asians' were allowed to play in football's Asia Cup last week... outrageous!

So let's not pretend we don't put ethinic, age, gender etc restrictions around all sorts of sports. Now if, as Andrew says, it was specifically excluding one group then you've got some problems. But if it's about including a specific group and growing the sport amongst new groups, that's very different. If Maori Basketball NZ isn't allowed to go out of its way to encourage Maori coaches, then it may be a lot harder for a Maori coach to end up coaching England, as Capello did in football.

by Alan Johnstone on February 06, 2015
Alan Johnstone

Tim, very bad example anyone regardless of racial background could play in the Asian cup recently, just as long as they meet residency and citizenship requirements which are open to all. 

Comparing age restricted events to those that segregate on an ethnic basis is very different. Everyone can be 15 and get there chance, not everyone can be the correct race.

As New Zealand citizens we all enjoy the same rights and obligations. (it's in the treaty), frankly I'm staggered and not a little disappointed that such an organisation such as "Maori Basketball NZ" exists, when the remaining 85% of us manage to get by fine with a governing body that isn't racially based. 

by Tim Watkin on February 06, 2015
Tim Watkin

Alan, I'm not sure the can be/are point makes any difference. The point is that they are restrictions on who can compete in all kinds of events, and the argument in this case is that the girls should be allowed to compete and not restricted (despite the rules). The fact that you can be 15 for a year in your life but cannot be another ethnicity seems irrelevant; you can't make yourself 15 to be able to compete in the under 17 part of this tournament, just as you can't make yourself Maori. The rules of the tournament exclude people according to age as well as ethnicity, yet no-one frets about that.

That aside, you don't mention gender restrictions. Can't let you get away with that! Even accepting your argument re age and citizenship, will you also criticise gender-based exclusions on the basis "not everyone can be the correct [gender]"?

Because it seems the extension of your argument re can be/are is that it all should come down to ability and potential; if you can practice and improve and be good enough then that should be the only thing that matters.

Which raises questions re women competing against men in many sports. I wonder what the rules are at the ICC World Cup. Could a brilliant woman cricketer play?

That such an organisation exists, in this case, I think is less about Treaty rights and other reasons for specific Maori-based support (such as Brash's old "race-based funding") and more about promoting a sport to people who don't play it much and haven't made it part of their culture. That's less exclusion, more marketing.

by Alan Johnstone on February 06, 2015
Alan Johnstone

Are you really trying to equate racial segregation with gender? You're drawing a long bow.

Gender based sports exists because of physical differences between sexes,  without it woman wouldn't otherwise be competitive. Serena Williams may have 19 major titles, but she wouldn't make the top 250 in mens tennis.  Are you suggesting we have races that are less capable and needing such protection ?

There are several sports where women and men compete evenly; it's becoming more common in golf as an example. If a woman cricketer was of sufficient standard, I'd of course support her .

Aside from this, doesn't racial sporting segregation just feel wrong to you?


by Lee Churchman on February 07, 2015
Lee Churchman


To coach at Super 15 or National level, the NZRU requires that candidates "Must have a strong affinity with or connection to New Zealand ... ."

I find that pretty weird for the Super 15, especially given the Americanised nature of the teams in that competition. It certainly makes the league an outlier in professional sports (which it is is many other ways, being a small league in a sport with limited interest).

by Alan Johnstone on February 07, 2015
Alan Johnstone

Super 15 isn't a meaningful competition, it serves no purpose of itself, it exists solely as a development vehicle for the national team. Players and coaches are distributed amongst regions to support this aim.

That's why it's failing and plays in front of increasingly empty stadiums.

It needs a serious dose of the free market and private ownership of clubs

by Lee Churchman on February 07, 2015
Lee Churchman

The Chiefs get a good crowd. I took my boy to a game - at his request (I'm an NHL and EPL guy). It's not St. James' Park, but it's a decent night out  

I will ill say that rugby fandom appears to be dying out among my students. The NBA and European football rule now. 

by Megan Pledger on February 10, 2015
Megan Pledger

It isn't consistent because a coach isn't an official - the umpire/referee/time keeper and scorers are i.e. people who manage the game are officials.

It just sounds insane.  They have a person who coached a teenage girls basketball team and took them away to tournament and ... wants to do it again!  They should be giving him medals not turning him away.

It smacks of sours grapes - this team won last time so they have introduced rules so this team can't win again;  when the team does comply with the new rule then an even  newer, unwritten rule is made up which is apparently based on the administrator's ability to mind read.    It all sounds very, very dodgy.



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