Reason: Why golden Val Adams gets my vote

MARK REASON
Last updated 05:00 11/05/2014
Murray McCully
Fairfax NZ
MINISTER OF SPORT AND RECREATION: Murray McCully.

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OPINION: One day the New Zealand government may take sport seriously. One day the government may decide to appoint a sports minister with sole responsibility for sport. One day the government might not give the job to a seedy bloke in an All Blacks scarf. One day the government, swallow hard here, may give the job to a woman.

Some day in the not-too-distant future, I would love to see Valerie Adams become sports minister of this country. She is articulate, she is driven, she is funny, she is passionate and she knows how athletes get better. Adams is also, by the by, a woman of Pacific origin. That's a sports minister with a double first.

Her brother Steve, of course, is a top basketball player. His Twitter bio reads: "Proud as Kiwi. New Zealand, we are the perfect country." The Adams family has a silver fern running through it.

How dreary it would be if Valerie became another "sporting ambassador", her enthusiasm running away down some backwater drain. But, if someone took her seriously, if someone sounded her out about entering politics, what a force she could become for the evolution of women's and Pacific sport in this country.

At the moment, any little sports-mad girl with a vision opens her bedroom curtains and what does she see? She sees Murray McCully standing under the corner streetlight, his lank hair pulled over his head like an oil slick. Huddled behind him, stamping their feet to keep warm, are Peter Miskimmin, Alex Baumann and Paul Collins.

The four most powerful people in New Zealand sport are all men moving on in years. This country glows with the achievements of Adams and Lydia Ko and Lisa Carrington, diverse, single-minded, brilliant, women. But as usual the people in charge belong to an old boys' club.

Collins is chairman or director of many sporting bodies. Miskimmin heads Sport New Zealand where Canadian Baumann is high performance boss. McCully is a 61-year-old sports nut having his second go at the job.

The sports minister's latest policy announcement is to "ensure the most serious form of match-fixing is a criminal offence".

You sometimes have to laugh at the irony. McCully, former partner in the PR firm Allan Fenwick McCully, is the arch fixer. He has just finished fixing a job for Shane Jones (he says it wasn't created for Jones, but Jones was his first pick) in order to try to fix the election result. And now he is making match-fixing a criminal offence. Even he must laugh at it all sometimes.

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But it seems so tired. How refreshing it would be to see Valerie Adams throwing her weight around in a new arena. And it is far from impossible. The United Kingdom has a black woman sports minister who took up judo as a kid to beat racist bullying.

If the British Parliament can appoint Helen Grant, one of many women appointed to the post in the previous 15 years, then the New Zealand Parliament can put an end to this wretched primogeniture of men like McCully, Clayton Cosgrove and Trevor Mallard. Maybe then the country can develop a sporting landscape that is as appealing to girls as it is to boys.

The appointment of Grant has certainly opened up debate in Britain. The other day, the former world champion Steve Davis was asked why there weren't any top women snooker players and if they would ever make the latter stages of the competition.

He said women lacked the "single-minded determination in something that must be said is a complete waste of time - trying to put snooker balls into pockets with a pointed stick".

"Men are ideally suited to doing something as absolutely irrelevant in life as that," he continued.

"They're the ones who have train sets in the loft. They have stamp collections to die for. Right? These are stupid things to do with your life. As is trying to practise eight hours a day to get to World Championship level. So therefore I think we are also the idiots of the species as well."

It was an amusing answer but brought on a storm from female athletes who had dedicated their lives to being successful. It was also pointed out to Davis that a stained, sweaty snooker hall, the booze fumes dancing under the lights, might not be conducive to young women.

No-one pointed out that physical strength (see golf short game) appears beneficial to touch sports, but at least the UK is having a debate.

Cyclist Nicole Cooke proposed that the publicly funded BBC should give women's sports equal air time. In this country the two people responsible for Sky's sporting content are both men.

Englishwoman Charlotte Edwards is one of Wisden's cricketers of the year and the England Cricket Board has just announced improved professional contracts. Grant said: "Today's announcement by the ECB is a significant step forward, not just for women's cricket, but for women's sport in this country.

"England's women cricketers have led the way with world-class performances on the field and it is fantastic that the ECB is now moving to professionalise the sport. This will . . . demonstrate to girls and women throughout the country that a career in sport is a realistic aspiration for them."

Women's sport is getting headlines in the UK. I may disagree with sporting bodies using money generated by male athletes to professionalise women who the market place does not want to pay, but I want to have the debate.

Women and girls are far too quiet in this country's sporting debate. Give them a voice. Give them a sports minister. Not many are louder or more passionate than Valerie Adams.

- Sunday Star Times

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