New Zealand has earned a proud sporting reputation. For one hundred years men and women have left New Zealand to compete in a dozen different sports. In the 1970s my wife was one of those. Each year she ran in London, Stockholm, West Berlin, Zurich, Cologne, Brussels, Sydney and many other world cities.

On one of those trips, I was talking to the meet promoter in Zurich. He told me how much he enjoyed New Zealand athletes competing in his event.

“Why is that?” I asked.

“Well” he said, “with New Zealanders, you can count on two things. One, they will always deliver the best they can on the night. And two, whatever financial deal is done before the meet, they will honour when it’s time to be paid. If they break a world record or underperform, the deal will stand. Athletes from many other countries come to the payment office and want to renegotiate. New Zealanders, you can trust them. They are honest.”

Many fine men and women built that reputation. Lovelock was known throughout the world for his quiet honesty. The last thing you would ever call Danyon Loader or Gary Hurring or their coaches is big heads. I doubt that Peter Snell, Murray Halberg, John Davies, Barry Magee, Bill Baillie or their coach had an arrogant bone between them. And certainly, John Walker, Dick Quax and Rod Dixon were impeccable ambassadors of their home values. And there were women too who also forged New Zealand’s reputation. The 1970s women who changed athletic history. Anne Audain, Lorraine Moller, Barbara Moore, Allison Roe, Allison Wright, Heather Thompson (Matthews) cleared a path of impeccable honesty and hard work. And nowhere has there been a more honest coach than Arch Jelley.

But of course, it is not just athletics and swimming that has built New Zealand’s proud reputation. Rugby, soccer, squash, rowing, triathlon have been represented by athletes who have done their nation proud. And Lisa Carrington and Caitlin Regal are both ambassadors in the finest tradition of all who have gone before.

I guess the point is New Zealand’s reputation has been hard won. Through winter nights around the Waitakere Ranges, through pouring rain on Lake Pupuke, in less than adequate accommodation somewhere in Europe, New Zealanders have done us proud.

Consequently, when I see someone fail to honour the reputation they have inherited, it makes my blood boil. I have seen what it took to build. No one should cause it damage and escape unscathed. But that is what happened on Sunday night.

Most New Zealanders will have seen Jordie Barrett mistimed catch that ended up with his sprigs scrapping down the face of the Australian challenger. But Jordie Barrett is not the problem. Sure, his kick was stupid. Sure, it deserves censure. And I have no doubt it was not intentional. It was a sorry and sad accident. It’s time to front up, accept the consequences and move on. It’s time to act like the honest athletes that you now follow.

No, the problem here is Jordie Barrett’s coach, Ian Foster. I hear he intends to appeal any punishment. In fact, Prime News reported tonight that it was Jordie Barrett’s shoe that hit the Australian. The problem with that report is Jordie Barrett’s foot was inside the shoe. And it didn’t just hit the Australian, his sprigs ran down the side of his face. On Queen Street that would earn jail time deliberate or not.

No, in my opinion Ian Foster has let his country and his sport down. This was time to front up and accept the consequences of a dumb mistake. This was time to act with honour. Instead, Foster squirms and wriggles. He wants Jordie Barrett to play next week and will damage his country to save his own hide.

What has he taught every junior rugby player in the country? The lesson is kick someone in the head with your sprigs and find a coach to argue it was really nothing, just an errant shoe. What does his example mean to young athletes from other sports? It means sneak in an extra butterfly kick on to your breaststroke start. It means jump on your triathlon bike a meter before the transition line. It means renegotiating your deal with the promoter after a good performance. It means cheat but look for a way out.

In my opinion, Foster’s decision makes him unfit to be the All Blacks’ coach, unfit to be involved in any sport at any level. If he thinks so little of the importance of integrity, he deserves to be sent back to whence he came, Hamilton.

I note that in a Stuff report dated December 11, 2019, Foster announced he was going to “reinvent himself”. “I need to take my own ideas. There’s a massive opportunity for us to go forward with an open mind. Now is the time for me to show what I have. That I’m innovative and to show that we have that mana that we feel we might have lost on the field,” he added.

All those fine words became so much garbage on Sunday night. If that’s your idea of innovative mana, Mr. Foster, do not do it in my country and certainly do not do it at the expense of the fine men and women who built this little country’s reputation. Not even the All Blacks’ coach, especially not the All Blacks’ coach, is allowed to do that.       

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