Friday, 4 August 2006

Kiwi obsession with sports

Since we have been here, one thing I noticed with Kiwi's in general is - they love their sports. Probably the word "love" is an understatement. Kiwi's are obsessed with sports. Any kind of sports will do as long as it is a sport. Let me explain the obsession.

The hour long evening news on the local television has about twenty to twenty five minutes of sports news. The remaining half hour covers local news, the war in the middle east, international news, politics, business and the weather. The morning news which is about fifteen minutes long has sports news and "other" news divided equally. Sports news back home mainly covers soccer and any sports that has local participation. Over here, it covers every and any imaginable sport there is on the face of the earth. But to be fair, the twenty minutes sports news has at least ten minutes of rugby.

On a Sunday afternoon, if one did not have Sky, and if one is not obsessed with sports, like me, then one is doomed! Either resort to watching a video or read a book. If you turned on the idiot box, you will have sports in one form or another in every free to air channel. It is either rugby, soccer, golf, biking, running, walking, swimming or simply some commentary of some sports somewhere on earth. It is simply amazing!

The obsession with sports just does not stop there. It goes beyond that. All my life in Malaysia, all I can remember about athletes are a retired footballer and some over the hill badminton players. My 7 year old son on the other hand, within a year in New Zealand, could name at least half the All Blacks in a line up. My 5 year old daughter recognised Tana Umanga before she could make out how Helen Clark looked like. Now, my son's school homework has an element of sport in it, all in the hope that they do not end up as couch potatoes.

If you thought that was taking it to the extreme, read on. In mid winter when the mercury can drop to almost freezing point, you can still see people playing rugby. This is just not adults, even junior teams from the various suburbs and schools partake in winter rugby. Most of the main rugby matches are actually held this time of the year. We went to one "Hurricanes vs Chiefs" at the Westpac Stadium. The temperature then was 5 deg Celsius and winds of up to 30 kmph but that did not keep the fans away. People came out in the thousands all dressed up in their favourite team colours to support their teams.

Due to where New Zealand physically is (the other side of the world), when games are played in Europe, it is the middle of the night here. That did not keep Kiwi's away from sports. The last World Cup had people into pubs at 5 am to watch live matches and still go to work after that.

Kiwi's continue this sports culture by continuously looking to create new adventure sports. If bungee jumping was not enough, you now have reverse bungee, where you are propelled upwards instead of jumping down. Another variant is a 143 m jump from a cable car suspended over a canyon or jumping off a parasail high above Lake Waikatipu. If white water rafting was not scary enough, you now have black water rafting and rafting in a cave in darkness. What else can you do in a river? Oh yes, white water sledging. Then there is the "fly by wire", where you fly yourself, powered by a 60hp engine, across a valley at 170 kmph! And the legal speed limit on New Zealand motorways is 100 kmph. That's not all! There’s also sky diving, paragliding, hang gliding, heli-skiing, skiing and snow boarding, jet boating, mountain biking, 4wd motorbikes, quad biking (some designed especially for kids), the list goes on.

Where do you find all this? Not in Auckland of course! Not the administrative capital or the business capital but the adventure capital of New Zealand, Queenstown. Actually, I think it is probably the adventure capital of the world! If you can possibly think of a way you could pay some one to scare the crap out of you, you can probably do it in Queenstown.

In short, if you are obsessed with sports, New Zealand is the place to be!