WANTED: An Asian All Black
Sports that don't attract Asians will suffer as the country's immigrant population continues to grow, an expert says.
Massey University's college of humanities and social sciences professor Paul Spoonley says mainstream sports like rugby and netball must make more effort to attract Asians.
"I am waiting for that first generation of New Zealand-born Asians to be in our sports teams, for that first Asian All Black."
He says many sports leaders do not understand how communities are changing and that is diminishing their pool of supporters and players. A primary reason why immigrants come to New Zealand is to get a job, Mr Spoonley says.
"They work long hours to get ahead.
"They also come for their children to be academically successful and sport is not necessarily seen as a priority."
But he says sport plays an important role in the assimilation of immigrants into the Kiwi way of life.
"If you're not engaged in sport it's hard to claim you're fully integrated into New Zealand society."
Popular Asian sports such as badminton, golf and table tennis have been boosted by the influx of immigrants to the Shore, Mr Spoonley says.
Up to 80 per cent of participants in badminton and table tennis in the region are Asian.
Manchester 2002 Commonwealth Games gold medallist Li Chunli is proof of how immigrants can enhance New Zealand sport, Mr Spoonley says.
But it is the mainstream codes that are lagging behind, he says.
"Most of these sports are so new to these migrant communities.
"So how do you attract them into a sport that is so foreign to them," Mr Spoonley says.
There are ways around what Asians might see as deterrents, like physical and weight stereotypes in rugby, he says.
"There are competitions in which size is not as important and positions that suit players of a smaller stature."
Understanding and acceptance is improving, Mr Spoonley says, thanks in part to the work of Harbour Sport and it's ActivAsian programme.
Using Asian role models, having appropriate dress codes and understanding the impact of cultural practices like Ramadan on athletes are some ways organisations can attract immigrants.
Go to harboursport.co.nz for more information.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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