Sporting guru sets sights on game
Robin McConnell of Kerikeri has an international reputation in the field of sport and a vibrant vision of how the Far North could do more to capitalise on what most people love - sport.
For some time he has tried to alert the Far North District Council that they might do more in terms of planning and strategy.
A letter sent to the Far North District Council in June 2008 received a brief reply to state a full reply would be sent, but he is still waiting after four years.
His point is that council should take the lead in planning for sport and do more to set a clear vision, outline its goals, set down its plans and explain what it considers sport and what it considers recreation.
Policy and the implementation of it for the elderly is one example of consideration for inclusion, he says.
Sport is good for the community and there's a sport for everyone, he says.
"Participation in sport reduces the demand on government agencies and resources.
"What we could do better is adapt sport for our population and ensure access to it.
"We need more activities like petanque or Golden Oldies cricket, for example."
If the council is serious about an integrated policy, he suggests young people might get involved in surveying senior citizens to establish what physical activity they would like.
He would like relevant bodies to explore the idea of a residential Bay of Islands sports academy.
He says such a facility could serve overseas students, and students of New Zealand universities that might be quite happy to have an outpost in the Far North.
"I wrote to Northtec but I had no answer from them either," he says.
Then there's the issue of sport in prisons which he knows a lot about.
Dr McConnell has carried out major research on sport in prisoner of war camps.
"The same principles apply in jails for inmate wellbeing and possible rehabilitation.
"Sport in confinement, including understanding of coaching, can help make men better fathers and gives them something that can be aspired to that will help integrate them into society better."
Why is New Zealand so focussed on sport above other endeavours?
"We've done well as a small nation and then it feeds on itself through the media.
"As a past school principal I do think that more can be done by teachers to excite children about other spheres of schooling such as finding and communicating a lasting joy and excitement in other fields.
"We should value and appreciate our poets and musicians as much as [we] do sports people."
As an award winning teacher Dr McConnell says we don't do enough "to help our kids dream", "to help our university students dream".
We should encourage them to work back from their dream rather than the other way around, he says.
Dr McConnell's academic career has been dedicated to sport leadership.
His other interests are poetry and music, and he has written a volume of poetry called Nothing is as Physical as a Poem.
Far North District Council recognises that sport and recreation have significant potential to contribute to the social and economic wellbeing of Far North communities.
Its policy is to encourage the use and development of recreational assets and it believes that all people have the right to participate in recreation and sport regardless of age, ability, discretionary income, ethnicity, gender and geographical location.
"Council however has limited resources and therefore must manage those resources to ensure equity, efficiency, and effectiveness."
According to its policy statement it aims to work collaboratively with other partners such as Sport Northland, the Department of Conservation and, community sport or recreational groups to ‘identify, develop and promote the use of recreational assets, ensuring that recreation and sport decision making is based on effective and on-going consultation with the Far North community, recreation and sport participants and service providers.
'Its policy also lists research, to be taken into account in planning and provision of facilities and programmes, designed to enhance the district's unique character and environment.
"There is a clear and established link between recreational activity and community well-being. For these benefits to be captured, however, there is a need for organisations to act as provider, funders and advocates. Council is in a strong position to work with other partners to fulfil this role. In many cases, if the public sector does not fulfil these roles, no one else will."
The Sport and Recreation Policy was adopted in 2004. At that time Council had stewardship of over 500 hectares of public land, through the community services contract it maintains 228 hectares of public space, 124 playgrounds and three skateboard parks.
Beyond the areas actively maintained there are large areas held by council to reserve bio-diversity, water catchment areas and access to waterways.
Council contracts out the management of the Kaitaia, Kawakawa and Kerikeri swimming pools. It also administers 22 leases with sports clubs, 30 leases for a variety of community spaces and seven grazing licences.