For Heaven’s Sake Steve – Don’t Do It

I suspect and hope that Steve Hansen’s request for government funding for the All Blacks was made tongue-in-cheek. Here is how Newshub reported Hansen’s request.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and Sports Minister Grant Robertson were welcomed into the All Blacks dressing room after Saturday’s resounding 40-12 Bledisloe Cup victory over Australia at Eden Park.Coach Hansen took the opportunity to bend Mr. Robertson’s ear on the subject of funding.

“They should be our biggest sponsors, because we’re their biggest brand,” he said later. “There wasn’t a lot said after that.”

More recently the departing CEO of the Crusaders franchise, Hamish Riach, put a case forward asking the sport and the government to seriously consider funding players’ wages. Riach argued government money was the only way to match the attractive salaries being offered by northern hemisphere clubs. The government should come to the financial aid of a sport wanting to keep players in New Zealand.

Please, for all that’s best in the sport, for the memory of players like Colin Meads, Ron Jarden, Bob Scott, Johah Lomu, Dave Gallaher and George Nepia, please, rugby, drop the whole idea. Stay away from government money. Never mention it again. Consider for a moment what you have and what you could lose.

Above all the Rugby Union has freedom. Its financial independence gives it the freedom to elect its Board in a way that suits its members. It can approve sponsorship deals and agree media contracts. It independently and freely controls and manages its own affairs. Along with the government’s money that would disappear. That is the price the government levies for its money. How do we know that? Simply because that is the price that has been charged in every other case. Just consider swimming.

When Swimming New Zealand (SNZ) first accepted government money the amount was small. Government income was seen as a fringe benefit, providing a small subsidy towards the cost of running the organisation. As you can see from the table below government money accounted for only 8% of the sport’s total income. Today swimming can’t live without the government’s money. Swimming is as dependent on the government for survival as the most dependent social welfare beneficiary. In 2017 government income accounted for 64% of the sport’s total income. In 17 years the dependence on government funding has gone from 8% to 64%.

Year Government Income Total Income % of Total Income
2017 1,413,148 2,208,972 64%
2000 105,704 1,310,017 8%

And that’s the way it is with government money. It starts off as a small subsidy for a specific purpose and grows like cancer until the organisation dies, unable to survive without government assistance. That is where swimming is at now. Consider the moaning and groaning coming from Cotterill and Johns when Sport New Zealand reduced their handout. Little did SNZ understand that those cuts were probably the most positive changes to the funding of SNZ that have occurred in 20 years. But Cotterill and Johns don’t like standing on their own two feet – and it shows.

Why is it like that? There are two reasons. First the management is lazy. It is easier to fill out a Sport New Zealand application form that it is to go out and earn a living. Like many beneficiaries, government-dependent sports become used to their government dole payment. It beats working for a living. Just ask Johns and Cotterill. They are hooked beneficiaries.

And second, the CEO of Sport New Zealand, Peter Miskimmin, wants sport to be dependent on his money. It is his source of power. He is a spider who likes nothing more than to see sports biggest prey lured by money into his funding web. He would love to see the CEO of the Rugby Union coming to his door begging for money. Miskimmin already has Steve Johns and Bruce Cotterill on their knees but to have Steve Tew join them – now that really would be an achievement.

But beware – Miskimmin is an expert at extracting a huge price in return for his money. The way he goes about exerting his control is a well-worn path. He has used it successfully in swimming, rowing, cycling and football. First he waits for the first signs of a drop in performance. In the case of rugby that might mean losing a couple of Bledisloe Cup games or failing to win the next World Cup. Expressing sympathy for their plight Miskimmin offers to pay for a Rugby Review. A grateful sport takes the bait and agrees to the Review. In the case of swimming Brian Palmer and Bronwen Radford naively agreed to Miskimmin’s Swimming Review even after they were warned where it would lead – and it has.

Miskimmin then appoints one of his Director’s Institute friends to head the Review. In the case of swimming that was Moller. Dozens of submissions are submitted but none of them matter. The head of the Reviews only function is to write a report that puts in place the Miskimmin blueprint. Critical features are always the same. The Review will recommend:

  1. A new Board selected in part by elections and in part by appointments. The appointment process ensures Miskimmin control of the sport. In swimming Bruce Cotterill is Miskimmin’s hired hand.
  2. A new and usually foreign CEO.
  3. A new and usually foreign Head Coach.
  4. A revised competition structure.

And that’s it; game, set and match. A grateful sport accepts Miskimmin’s plan, knowing that to turn him down would automatically lead to the loss of all government funding. From then on Miskimmin is in control. The amount of government funding can be manipulated at will. Board elections are completely undemocratic. Sport New Zealand becomes the final arbiter of who gets hired and fired. Independence and freedom are things of the past; replaced with servitude and control – just like SNZ.

That is the price of Miskimmin’s money. No amount of money is worth it. I cannot imagine Hansen or Tew falling for it. Surely they are made of sterner stuff than Palmer and Radford. There is nothing wrong with joking around about having Miskimmin pay the players. But, for the sake of New Zealand’s national game, never ever put that as a serious proposition. You will gain a few dollars and lose the world.

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