Sunday, November 06, 2005


Thanks to a bit of creative blagging I managed to get an invite to the Canterbury Winter Sports Awards last Friday night. A nice little freebie that let me do a bit of selective hob-nobbing with Canterbury's sporting elite. Though as a confirmed couch potato it was very obvious I was there for the free food and drink. There was absolutely no way anyone could mistake me for a member of the sporting fraternity. I suspect the fact I was one of about three people that was ducking out every hour or so for a surreptitious cigarette well and truly confirmed my non-sporting status.

Anyway this post isn't about who got what on that particular night. Rather I want to centre on a few comments made by the guest speaker Steve Gurney. Steve really needs no introduction as he's now pretty much cemented his place in NZ sporting history. The guy's a multisport legend having won the Coast to Coast event 9 times and taken out more endurance events than I care to count. He's what you could colloquially describe as a "good bastard". A funny bloke who's always got a quip handy yet he takes sport, and his role as a sporting personality, very seriously. He's also not afraid to go out on a limb and stand up for what he believes in. And this is what he did on Friday night knowing he would ruffle a few feathers in the sporting fraternity.

In betwixt his tales of how he got to where he was, and what had driven him to succeed, Steve touched on the subject of sports personalities and their responsibilities as role models. He pulled no punches in lambasting those who take sponsorship from fast-food companies. Steve asked what message are these people/teams sending in a society where obesity, especially among children, is becoming an increasing epidemic? No specific names were mentioned here, but you could tell everyone in the audience immediately thought of Sarah Ulmer's relationship with McDonalds and the deal between Burgerking and the NZ Breakers. It could have been my imagination but all of a sudden the room went just a little quieter. Steve Gurney also took issue with sports stars that have ended up in Court after late night altercations in bars ... again a small chill filled the room (particularly from the rugby tables). Steve mentioned no names, but then he didn't have to as everyone knew who he was talking about. (in fact even I've talked about one in this blog before ... Incidentally he was done again for a similar offence just a few weeks ago)

My impression was that there was a level of discomfort within the room at the issues he was raising. In a way I guess this is fair enough on the sponsorship issue. Athletes have a bloody tough time in this country getting sponsorship and I guess it would be bloody tough for someone to turn down a deal on a moral issue such as that. Hell, if the makers of EPO can sponsor a cycle race can we be too harsh on someone that accepts a few dollars from a purveyor of junkfood?

Still his point about personal behaviour was a good one, and possibly it's something sports organisations (particular for those involving predominantly male competitors) have failed to address satisfactorily. Rugby and rugby league spring to mind as prime culprits in this regard. Their litany of players in those codes disgraced over incidents involving drunkenness, assault, sexual misdemeanours and the like is well documented.

Though it's interesting to note we rarely have such scandals involving our female sports stars. Perhaps the boys need to grow up a bit?