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Why are Kiwis turning off sport?

Thursday, June 8, 2017

1254-Rugby Kids

Sport is losing the battle with entertainment for our discretionary time and dollars, which could have knock-on effects for our major codes.

Research commissioned by a large sporting organisation and shared with the Herald shows sport's relevance - measuring participation, passion, consumption and attendance - among New Zealand adults has been in a downward slump for all but one of the past five years.

The trend is particularly acute among younger generations, with a ratio of 3:1 being more passionate about entertainment than they are sport.

This, allied to rapidly changing demographics, is putting the pinch on the administrations of New Zealand's "traditional" sporting codes.

Sport NZ CEO Peter Miskimmin said the trends were in line with what the national funding agency was seeing.

"Traditional team competition sports is a really challenging space for us," Miskimmin said, citing figures that showed club membership was down 11 per cent since 1998.

Martin Snedden, who played a leading role in delivering a successful Rugby World Cup to New Zealand in 2011, believes the onus is on sports administrators to meet the changing needs of their constituents, even if it means blurring the lines between sport and entertainment.

Jenny Lim works with Harbour Sport as a capability manager and says while sport has "a bit of catching up to do" to engage with what is in itself a hugely diverse community, they are moving in the right direction.

"With more traditional 'New Zealand' sports, it could be a matter of improving access to information. How do we break down some of these barriers and let them know the values we can add to their lives?

"Everyone loves the All Blacks, it's a big part of New Zealand culture, so there is a desire to engage more."

Former Blues and Maori All Black halfback David Gibson said his sport needed to re-engage at community level.

"There is a definite disengagement there," he said. "I coach my son's team. Five years ago we had 13 age-group sides, this year we have three. I don't think rugby is less important, but its engagement and relevance at the community level is a challenge.

"I'm a big believer that rugby needs to change and adapt to meet the needs of its people."

Miskimmin said sport, including rugby, had for too long been locked into outmoded forms of supply that had failed to adapt to the demands of its customers, but said New Zealand Rugby bosses deserved credit for being proactive, encouraging diversity and sharing their intellectual property with other sports.

"Rugby has been such an important part of our social fabric and our national psyche that any change to [society] that effects it is going to be of great interest and concern," Miskimmin said.

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