Don't let these marketeers hijack our team
By Chris Rattue, 2/25/99
The quote of the week surely belongs to New Zealand rugby union boss David Moffett. As the debate heated up over just what the All Blacks would be wearing this season, with the latest suggestion being there could be changes to the socks, Moffett announced that "hoops go round, while stripes go up and down."
New rugby sponsors Adidas, it was claimed, would engineer the removal of the traditional hoops on the All Black socks and replace them with their three stripes.
Moffett scotched this suggestion, saying hoops would remain, although just how many hoops may now be the question.
If rumour is anywhere near fact, the rugby union and its new sponsors are considering providing the forwards with different jerseys from the backs - tight, body-hugging gear to lower the wind resistance for the sleek backs, and the more traditional type of outfit for those forwards who need a bit of cushioning in the rough exchanges.
Maybe this is an attempt to aid performance, although the whole thing smells of apparel sales targets. It could, of course, lead to all sorts of strife and maybe even the relaying of tactics to opponents.
If Jonah Lomu, for instance (provided he can run 3km quicker than the fat kids at school), runs out in the baggy gear, opposing sides will realise that his job that day will be to leave the wing and make barging runs near the forwards.
And Jeff Wilson and company will be quite within their rights to refuse to go anywhere near a pile-up in case they should suffer extra bruising due to the clinging nature of their shirts.
What the union must surely now also consider is a special pre-match strip to aid the performance of the haka, with holes in the armpits and crotch to help to free up the limbs for the jumping bit at the end.
It might also encourage kids who don't like playing sport but enjoy doing the haka to buy these particular replica jerseys.
What all this does raise is the whole issue of sponsors' influence in our major sports. Just who is driving this jersey issue: the sponsors or the union?
New Zealand sport in general has been far too pliable in allowing sponsors and their signs to run rampant. The rugby union should never have allowed Steinlager to be plastered all over the chests of the All Black jerseys.
The only commercial signs allowed should be small unobtrusive logos of the apparel manufacturer, but it should not extend to altering the actual strip design.
For this punter's money, the playing surfaces for sports should be free of sponsorship signs as well. They are intrusive, a nuisance.
There are many avenues where sponsors can get value for their money. Ironically, the good example in this area is the United States, the land of the free. Their uniforms and playing surfaces are free from sponsorship, and all the better for it.
The public, who have to pay good money for tickets or television coverage, deserve at least to watch their national teams without having advertising jammed down their throat at every turn.
They also deserve to feel some ownership of national teams they have supported with their time and money, without having them hijacked by the marketeers. For that very reason, the All Black jersey deserves to be a topic of debate.
And if the union does start playing around with the socks in the name of Adidas (Moffett says the contract rules out putting their stripes on the shorts or jerseys), the players could follow the lead of former Kiwi captain Gary Freeman when the New Zealand Rugby League tried to force players to wear their socks up.
Freeman replied that if the rule was to come in, he would certainly run on to the field with his socks pulled up, although there was the dreadful possibility that they may slip down early in the game.