Updated: May 9, 2019
Sport is a big part of New Zealand culture and is so entrenched into the fabric of New Zealand society that the mood of the nation can be influenced by the result of an All Black test match. If we win, there is a sense of elation. If we lose, it’s all a bit gloomy.
Children are encouraged to play sport from a young age. It’s touted as a way of developing strength of character, better fitness and making friends. As boys grow up, their involvement in contact sports such as rugby (which by its very nature is hard and rough) can lead to the adoption of ‘macho’ behaviours. But these behaviours don’t always stay on the field; they sometimes continue once the game is over. This hypermasculinity can lead to men assuming that to be a ‘real’ man means being tough and macho. It certainly does not mean showing qualities such as tenderness and compassion.
So, does the rough nature of contact sports lead to the normalisation of violent behaviour?
What is acceptable on the sporting field would be questionable elsewhere. Players are encouraged to harden up and be prepared to ‘put their bodies on the line’ for the sake of the team. This can often see players being very physical and confrontational towards their opponents resulting in on field ‘skirmishes’.
We idolise sporting heroes like the All Blacks, however, sporting achievements can’t be separated from a person’s behaviour. We celebrate their performance on the field yet turn a blind eye to what happens off the field. Alcohol, drugs and assaults by sporting heroes are frowned upon but is there a level of inconsistency with how we view these acts depending on who has been the perpetrator?
However, it is not only the players who adopt such behaviours. Be it at home or in a social setting, spectators get into the spirit of the game and they too can take on macho behaviours. Alcohol is another socially accepted companion of sport, which can increase the likelihood of assaults and violent behaviours. How is it that when, after a game, won or lost, some people can become so upset that they then assault others?
The link between major sporting events, assaults and general violence has started to become more noticeable. The police have acknowledged that domestic violence callouts increase after big matches.(1) This is not to suggest that the results of sporting events are the only or primary triggers for assaults and violence, however the link can no longer be denied.
Something is not right, yet if we continue to keep our blinkers on all in the name of sport and in ‘taking one for the team’, sport will continue to contribute to the high rates of aggression and violence we are currently dealing with in New Zealand.
So how much longer can we ignore the obvious, that there is a link between aggressive behaviour on the sports field and aggressive behaviour off the field? Too many of our friends, neighbours and children are being affected by the rising rates of violence in our society and this is not acceptable. It’s time we took a long honest look at what contributes to such behaviour and begin to address the causes. We say we love our sport, yet how can we truly love it if our people are being harmed both on and off the field?
(1) In 2012 the NZ Herald made reference to this link and in 2004, Christchurch police responded to 740 emergency calls in a 12 hour period from 7pm on the Saturday evening the Crusaders lost to the Brumbies. https://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=3568124