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James Clark



March is here. It’s officially autumn. You’d never know it’s only been that way for a week though. Already we’ve had the 3rd round of the Super 12, the Kingz played their last soccer match of the season in the Australian League a week ago, and Rugby League and Basketball are both set to kick off this weekend. All this winter sport and it’s only the start of March. I guess the weather is quite fitting for it, with all this rain and wind and people donning their winter jackets at a time that is usually the hottest of the year. It looks like winter sports have officially arrived.
But wait, what about the cricket? That’s a good traditional summer sport and our test matches with South Africa haven’t even started yet. It can’t be time for winter sports to kick in. We still have to get outside to support our sportspeople, sitting on the grass banks, drinking beer, and enjoying the sun. It’s only the start of autumn; there must be more time somewhere for those summer sports.
These days it looks like the overlap between summer and winter sports is growing and growing. Now that Rugby starts in mid February with the Super 12 and doesn’t finish till late October with the NPC, it hardly gives the players (and the viewers) a break. It’s not just rugby that is extending its time boundaries – cricket is all the way into June, tennis is going all year round, as is golf.
Now why are the seasons being extended? Well, there are those sports slowly going pro, and if there’s money to be made then there’s sport to be played. We only have ourselves to blame in that respect for supporting all these games that are being further extended into the seasons. There is also our dear friend called technology that brings us those instant replays and the animated flyovers of the golf course that helps to extend the season. Technology is allowing players to move around the globe more easily to stay in a constant season and shield them from the elements and to improve the gear and their abilities to function at the seasonal limits of their sport.
Is this is good for sport in general and is it good for the individual code? From a viewer’s perspective this really is great. More sport to watch, another chance to support the home team and games are held in towns that normally wouldn’t host these top tier sports, which is great for those who can’t get to the big city. Of course, it also means coming up with more excuses for the girlfriend or boss why you must watch the game, but that’s part of the fun, isn’t it?
Yet it’s not always thumbs up to extending seasons. Just last year we had the NZRU veto the idea of adding more teams to the Super 12 because it wanted to preserve the grass roots of the game at the NPC level, and adding another two weeks to the rugby season would have seriously hampered this. Eric Watson’s announcement of his plans for a Pasifika team is sure to renew this question. Undoubtedly, strengthening the Pacific Island teams is a boost for the game of rugby and a boost for New Zealand as well – and really, what’s another week?
The wear and tear on the players playing games every week, with hardly any off-season at all, must surely be detrimental to them and the game (though NBA players somehow manage to play multiple games a week). And it is in a way: Those who are injured miss out on competing in far more games, and those who are banned could miss out on a longer season. There is also more time spent on the road away from family and friends. But this means that only those committed to the game, those who are prepared to work hard will compete and this leaves us with some stunning talent.
The old adage of practice makes perfect applies here, that these sportsmen who now play almost all year long must also practice more than ever before. With all this extra practice including during the off-season we should see sport evolve to a new level where the sportsman taking to the field has refined his skills to an art, to be as near perfect as possible, with better skills, faster legs and a fitter body. And that all leads to some pretty exciting sport being played.