Wanted: An Asian All Black

MARYKE PENMAN
Last updated 05:00 28/08/2012
All Blacks
JOHN SELKIRK/ Fairfax NZ

CULTURAL AFFINITY: Having sporting role models can attract immigrants, says Massey University's Professor Paul Spoonley.

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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 said many sports leaders do not understand how communities are changing and that is diminishing their pool of supporters and players. 

Spoonley said most immigrants came to New Zealand to get a job and many worked 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 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 Auckland, Spoonley said.

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, Spoonley said.

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 thanks in part to the work of Harbour Sport and its  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. 

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- Auckland Now

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