New Zealanders are well-known for being active, outdoorsy and healthy people, so it’s not a surprise that sport has been something that unites the population and makes them proud of their identity and their country. Small countries like New Zealand treat sporting success as something very significant since it can help put them on an international stage. While the beginnings of sports were in NZ were slow, the late 1800s brought a lot of good for the nation, and New Zealanders are still going strong in many sporting events. Here’s a little introduction to Kiwi sporting history and their success today.
Like stated above, New Zealand broke into the international sporting scene in the late 1800s, and its early success brought a lot of national pride to people. For instance, long-distance walker Joe Scott started touring Britain in 1887 and won many races in one year. Also, Carbine, a New Zealand bred Thoroughbred racehorse, won the Melbourne Cup in 1890.
This is the time where the sports team started touring around the world. The national rugby team visited Britain in 1888, which raised interest in Maori culture. This team was also the first to use a silver fern, the symbol of NZ national identity, on their team flag, which is now commonly used on New Zealand sports uniforms.
The national rugby team, the All Blacks, started touring Britain in the early 1900th century and shocked the local crowd by winning 34 of their 35 matches. The All Blacks of 1924-25 gained the nickname the Invincibles since they won all their matches. These early teams and individuals represented the nation’s character and presented New Zealanders as warrior men with strong outdoor qualities and natural leadership skills.
Rugby was the dominant sport in the early 1900s, but other sporting successes widened the nation’s horizons and strengthened the New Zealand pride. For instance, Phar Lap, the New Zealand-bred horse, won the Melbourne Cup in the 1930s. In the 1936 Olympics in Berlin, Jack Lovelock brought home the gold medal for 1,500 meters run. National hero, Yvette Williams, won two gold medals in the 1950s (the Olympics and Empire Games) and became the first woman to receive recognition from all people of New Zealand, not just sporting fans. Peter Snell and Murray Halberg also brought home gold medals in running events during the 1960 Olympics.
The masculine and conqueror spirit of the nation was further strengthened when Edmund Hillary and Sherpa Tenzing Norgay climbed Mt Everest in 1953 making them the first duo to achieve such a feat.
The late 1900s brought another revolution to New Zealand’s sport—live television coverage of sporting events. This move brought attention to many less-popular sports, mostly events in the Olympics and Commonwealth Games, where New Zealanders were successful.
Modern sporting achievements
In the 1990s, another sport got more attention from the New Zealand public—yachting. Since the national team broke into international yachting and even won America’s Cup in 1995 and 2000, yachting became a beloved sport. Today, if you check out a New Zealand Travel Guide, you can see that besides marathons and cycling tours, they also recommend many fun kayaking and beach adventures. Since New Zealand is an island, there’s plenty of opportunities to enjoy water activities.
Women’s achievements in sport also became more celebrated in the late 1900s, especially after the Black Ferns (rugby) and the Silver Ferns (netball) teams started winning championships.
Controversy in sport
New Zealand is a country of few controversies, but sporting history has a lot to show for. The biggest scandal in the history of sports stems from New Zealand’s sporting relationship with South Africa which supported racial segregation. Both New Zealanders and many African nations were divided over the fact that NZ national teams were touring South Africa. The peak of this controversy was in 1981 when South Africa sent their rugby team to New Zealand, which is a move that sparked protests all over the country and caused many people to stop supporting rugby. However, after the All Blacks won the first Rugby World Cup in 87, some national pride in rugby was restored.
New Zealand and rugby
New Zealand and rugby are so tightly-connected that this sport deserves a separate paragraph in New Zealand sporting history. It all started with the national rugby team, the All Blacks. This team has the best winning record in the world and is currently second on the world ranking system. The All Blacks won their first world cup in 1987 and they managed to reclaim the title of the world champion in 2011. Their third world title came in 2015 after successfully defending the title from 2011. Traditionally, the All Blacks (and many other national teams) perform a Maori challenge called haka before every international game, which is something that’s been mesmerizing spectators all over the world for decades.
New Zealanders invest a lot of their time, love and heart into sports, and they have many success stories to show for it. Plus, it doesn’t seem like they are planning to stop being sporting heroes any time soon, so you might as well join the party and celebrate New Zealand’s sports!
Diana Smith is a full time mom of two beautiful girls interested in topics related to home improvement, DIY and interior design. In her free time she enjoys reading and preparing healthy meals for her family.
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