Peter Williams: Take caution when playing politics with rugby

Opinion 09/04/2019

The thing about being in the news business is that you if you are serious about your job, you don’t run a story unless you’re pretty sure that it’s true. That’s especially the case when the story is making pretty serious accusations against the two most important politicians in the country - the Prime Minister and the Minister of Finance.

So when the New Zealand Herald reports that Jacinda Ardern and Grant Robertson are behind the looming name change at the Crusaders, they have to be pretty certain they’ve got their facts right.

Because you’re talking rugby here, and Canterbury rugby in particular.

The pushback against changing the name of the Crusaders is pretty strong. Any poll that I’ve seen on the matter - albeit unscientific ones and open to manipulation - on sites like Stuff, NZ Herald, and our own Magic Talk polls online - are still overwhelmingly against a change of name for the Crusaders.

Calls to my show on Magic Talk, and most other shows I’ve listened to, also seem to show a majority against changing the name of the team. A majority of Muslim voices that I’ve heard on the matter are saying the same thing. I’ve had two of those callers on air and both were vehement in their opposition to a name change.

There is a research project being undertaken on behalf of the Crusaders at the moment. If that research asks a simple question like “should the Crusaders change their name?”, the answer I’m sure will be a pretty resounding no.

Yet we are hearing, this is a done deal. Ardern, despite saying as recently as Monday’s post-Cabinet press conference that she “would be loathe to throw an opinion over the top of that. I’d like to leave it to the club and the fanbase,”  is being reported as the driver of a name change, supported by Grant Robertson in his role as the sports minister. Despite the research being carried out at the moment, the change of name is a done deal.

Jacinda Ardern is denying the accusation. On the AM show she said she wouldn’t be complaining about the story. Which actually raises more questions.

Because you see, tinkering in rugby issues in this country, even these days when rugby does not hold quite the same sway as 30 years ago, is not a politically good idea.

If a story is put about that you were involved in changing the Crusaders name, and you deny it, but don’t complain about the story and just brush it off as speculation and not a big deal - despite it being disseminated on some of the most consumed media outlets in the country - well then you leave a lingering suspicion that there are some legs to the story after all.

We don’t know how the name change story will play out, but it’s looking more and more like a done deal. The Crusaders will get some kind of new vanilla branding, and as with some other proposed government policies, like the Capital Gains Tax, that is not going to play well with a big chunk of middle New Zealand.

There are votes in rugby and there are votes in not having a capital gains tax.

I wonder if this government appreciates that making major changes in those areas is not politically astute.

Peter Williams is host of Magic Mornings.