Judging the Halbergs – is it time for a rethink?

SIMON PLUMB
Last updated 05:00 13/02/2014
Breakers celebrate three-peat
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THREE-PLAY: The New Zealand Breakers are an example of what is unfortunate about the current Halbergs system.

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OPINION: It's the annual cue for a nation to reflect, a feel-good celebration of a year's sporting achievements and, most importantly, a chance to acknowledge New Zealand's elite athletes.

But it's also become increasingly divisive, opaque and controversial, more a football for the opinionated than a collective, dignified nod to the nation's best.

So, is it time the Halberg Awards got a makeover?

Controversies in recent years include a widespread backlash over the supreme award to the undefeated All Whites in 2011 (a judge quit in protest), questionable omissions from the list of finalists, allegations of favouritism towards certain sports and a "token gimp award".

Untangling this plate of spaghetti takes an army - 30 judges, who don't meet to hammer out facts and figures before casting their secret votes.

Tonight's awards could be as divisive as ever with the categories of sportsman, sportswoman, coach of the year and the supreme award all fiercely competitive.

Most interesting will be seeing how the decisions are received, and whether they reflected the judging guidelines.

For the record, these are the criteria: "The Halberg Award will be awarded to the individual athlete, athlete in a team, or team whose achievement represented excellence in sport at the highest level. This criteria is in turn applied to the Sportsman, Sportswoman, Disabled Sportsperson & Team awards (which are all eligible for the supreme Halberg Award), as well as the Coach award."

The 30-member "voting academy" - consisting of journalists, news personalities, former athletes and coaches - also takes into consideration whether the achievement was in a sport's pinnacle event for the year, whether it was a world record or for world ranking (or other recognition such as world player of the year), the quality of the field and the global nature of the sport.

In comparison, the BBC's Sports Personality of the Year award (which includes a number of categories, not solely the namesake honour), takes a more simple and democratic approach - voted for by the British public.

The same awards also allow a "foreign" coach of a successful British team or athlete to be eligible for recognition.

The NZ Breakers are an example of what is unfortunate about the current Halbergs system.

In 2011, the Breakers became the first Kiwi franchise to win a trans-Tasman championship, an achievement that had eluded the NZ Warriors in the NRL, the Wellington Phoenix in the A-League and five Kiwi netball teams in their trans-Tasman championship before the Waikato-Bay of Plenty Magic won a title in 2012.

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In 2012, the Breakers did it again and in 2013 they made it three ANBL titles in a row.

Despite that, not once have the Breakers even been finalists for team of the year.

Neither has coach Andrej Lemanis, since promoted to the Australian national job off the back of his success, been eligible for coaching recognition.

For all his tactical nous, planning and man-management, the Halbergs view Lemanis simply as a non-New Zealander and he therefore will not be acknowledged - regardless of whatever landmarks he helped New Zealand athletes, and an entire sporting code, achieve.

Perhaps the most telling award tonight will be the sportswoman of the year category, with golf prodigy Lydia Ko and Valerie Adams (winner of the title for the past seven years) tipped as frontrunners alongside swimmer Lauren Boyle and kayaker Lisa Carrington.

First and foremost, Adams and Carrington secured their pinnacle events of the year, with shot putter Adams becoming the first female athlete in the world to win four world championships. Carrington, meanwhile, not only retained her K1 200m world title, but also added bronze after branching out in the K1 500m.

The other two contenders did not secure their respective pinnacle event in 2013. However, their cases are still intriguing.

Ko, 16, still had a stunning 2013 season, topped by an impressive second-place finish at the Evian Masters - one of five Major championships in women's golf. Ko is also the fourth-ranked women's golfer in the world - the highest ranking ever held by a New Zealander.

Similarly, swimmer Boyle didn't find gold at the world long-course championships, but not only became the first Kiwi to win a medal at the premium meet since Danyon Loader 19 years ago, but won three bronze medals in Barcelona.

So, in accordance with the criteria, who have the judges picked?

- Fairfax Media

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