Today I would normally talk about fitness: I would say that it is a challenge at present. We eat very limited carbohydrates. Fresh vegetables are expensive, and the stuff in the supermarket is cheap industrial food. The distance we can walk is limited by regulation, and all gyms and pools are closed.
But there are benefits. I do have some sympathy for professional athletes, for our current version of rugby is damaging to long term health. You have to bulk up to the point you are technically obese, and the substitution rules mean that most players don’t stay on the field. The increased mass means that the number of concussions is going up.
The player’s competitive life is shorter than it ought to be. But more importantly, many people are spending money keeping stadiums up and sitting on their bottoms watching rugby from February to November.
The season is too long. Mass media strategies are non viable when most people have had a significant drop in their income — we have 1.4 million people on wage subsidies in a population of 4.8 million during this shutdown — and the first thing you get rid of is sky TV.
New Zealand Rugby could save $25million and the highest-paid players will be hit the most in a range of measures announced yesterday.
New Zealand Rugby and the New Zealand Rugby Players’ Association revealed an agreement yesterday whereby it would freeze about $25million, or 50%, of the remaining forecasted player spend in 2020. It was for the top 270 players in the country, covering Super Rugby players, those involved in the sevens programme and the Black Ferns.
NZRPA chief executive Rob Nichol said if no more rugby was played at this level the frozen payments and benefits would be waived permanently. If some games were played and the financial outlook improved, payments could be reinstated.
Not just New Zealand. Rugby is our national game, and there is the usual virtue signalling driven my the management, and an aim to moderate the club’s quite boozy and masculine culture. But it’s hitting the sports not watched.
Any momentum these leagues, and women’s sports in general, had worldwide has seemingly been halted by the pandemic. Now the question is whether women will lose the gains they had made when life returns to normal.
“If the seas get choppy and rough and you’re out there in a yacht, you can go downstairs and live it up and ride it out. You can eat good, drink good and all that. Men’s sports are the ones with the yacht,” said Cheri Kempf, commissioner of the National Pro Fastpitch softball league. “But if you’re out there in a canoe, and seas get choppy, you’re in big trouble. And that’s women’s sports. You know, we’re riding around out there in a canoe.”
Among the signs women’s sports could suffer more was the recent decision by Independiente Santa Fe in Colombia to suspend all player contracts for its women’s soccer team while saying the men’s team would only see pay cuts.
The impact of COVID-19 and the resulting hit to the economy could resemble the 2008 recession. The Houston Comets of the WNBA could not find a buyer and the league contracted back then. Whirlpool, meanwhile, pulled out of its planned sponsorship of Women’s Professional Soccer, which had the unfortunate timing of launching in 2009 and lasted just three seasons.
The WNBA is in better shape today than many women’s sports because of its affiliation with the NBA. The league has put off the start of the season, set for May 15, but Commissioner Cathy Engelbert recently suggested it might be able to return sooner rather than later.
And in Aussie.
It has endured drawn-out negotiations with the players’ association, while there is no broadcast deal beyond this year and there are hints of a revolt against the current administration.
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The Australian women’s rugby sevens team already enjoys full pay parity with the men and is currently on enforced annual leave, so it is the 15-a-side game that could feel the sting.
The national women’s team, the Wallaroos, receive small match and training payments, and have been gradually expanding their international Test schedule ahead of next year’s World Cup.
The Super W is the only one of Australia’s four women’s domestic football competitions where players do not receive any match payments.
This year’s Super W finals series had to be called off, with the undefeated New South Wales Waratahs awarded their third-straight championship.
RA’s head of women’s rugby and participation Jilly Collins said it was crucial to focus on resurrecting the men’s teams in order to continue supporting the women.
“Our priority as a business from an operational perspective is to make sure that we are financially in the best position we can be moving forward,” she said.
“Because that investment and revenue we generate in the professional men’s game drives investment across all other areas of the game.”
Rugby in Australia is a minority sport, run into the ground by their appointment of a Kiwi woman who ruined a couple of league clubs first. There will be very little money. It is not the sport of masses: league is, and league is struggling. The Aussies are honest: the woman’s game is parasitical on the mena’s game. But the men’s side, which generally can make money, is also falling over. Excess expense is excess expense.
This does not mean we can’t be competitive. On the amateur and youth side, we are having rowing competitions (using machines: the “erg”), since our government won’t allow any water sports in lockdown. On our hill walk we are often passed by mountain bikers. Many people are able to walk or run or cycle at lunchtime — and are.
Amateur sports will survive. You don’t need much. But the mass events? Gone this year. And they may not come back.
Our sporty young men need to consider John Kirwan. All Black. Now mental health ambassador — but when playing he was a butcher. Or John Davies — elite runner, coach of my track club when I was a kid. But he was a teacher, and ran after school.
No professional sport can be a career. Pray that the health issues that we have are those of excess calories and being a fan. For the alternative is Venezuela or Zimbabwe: neither of which can feed themselves.