Bob McMurray: Where's the official recognition?
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Lack of official respect
The overseas motorsport season is well under way, ramping up each weekend.
From a New Zealand point of view it started well with the success of Shane van Gisbergen in the Adelaide Supercars event and fellow Kiwi driver Fabian Coulthard in second place on Saturday, then Scott McLaughlin repeating that on Sunday.
And we have other Kiwi drivers racing around the world who all reflect their pride in being from this small country of ours. But do we, as a country, and more particularly government or “official” institutions, take the same pride in them?
Why are motorsport’s men and women not generally recognised as sportspeople, as athletes in the purest sense?
They train hard and have to be extremely physically fit with a ruthlessly competitive streak coupled with mental acuity, dedication and focus. And all this from a young age.
They represent this country with a demeanour and attitude that, even in this modern age, screams Kiwi.
Yet, with all that, the investment the government-supported sports bodies, Sport NZ and High Performance Sport NZ, allocate to the sport is paltry.
Search the website for Sport NZ and the word “motorsport” does not appear.
I do recognise that our race and rally competitors do not officially wear the silver fern, accepted as a mark of national representation, and thereby do not formally represent the country. But as far as I am aware nor do many other recipients of state-sanctioned funding.
Over the past 10 years, motorsport, through Sport NZ, has received approximately $1.6 million. That’s an average of $160,000 a year, passed to Motor Sport New Zealand (MSNZ), of which some $30,000 a year has gone to the MSNZ Scholarship Trust/Elite Academy to help alleviate the annual cost, in a relatively small way, of running the academy and the ongoing support of the graduates. Those same graduates are now competing around the world.
Much of the rest of the money is used for administration purposes.
I am well aware that many sports receive little or no funding and I sympathise with the many dedicated competitors and volunteers who somehow manage to keep their sport going with little or no recognition.
You would have thought that this country’s annual night of celebrations of sport and sports people would have at least recognised a major international sports figure, a proud New Zealander known throughout the world, whose exploits were reported globally, and an important contributor to road safety.
His death, you would have thought, warranted inclusion in the “in memoriam” part of the evening.
This person was not a “behind the scenes” operator or a hard-working administrator, but a person made an MBE.
I refer of course to Chris Amon, who passed away in August 2016.
Many were amazed and disappointed that in February, at the annual Halberg Awards, there was no mention of Amon, not a word, not a whisper, nor was he included in the ”in memoriam” video shown on the night.
I find this insulting to the memory of Chris, his wife and family as well as to the sport of motor racing in this country.
It is claimed that MotorSport NZ did not inform the relevant Halberg person of Amon’s passing, although apparently there was no mechanism for doing that.
A spurious argument surely, with such an international sports personality, holding a royal honour, whose death was reported and recorded in each and every major New Zealand newspaper, on every TV news bulletin, every radio station as well as many countries around the world.
His passing was even marked by the New Zealand flag in the Olympic Games Village in Brazil being dropped to half-mast as a mark of respect.
Did it need a nomination from MSNZ to inform the Halberg Disability Sport Foundation of the passing of one of the three greatest racing drivers to come out of New Zealand?
Or perhaps this is symptomatic of the way that motorsport is viewed by the sporting establishment in New Zealand — not really sportspeople, not like a runner, rower or a cyclist.
Chris Amon MBE leaves much as his legacy, but perhaps one ongoing gift to the sporting “establishment” will be to remind them that this country’s motor racers, rally or road, are just as valid, just as hard working, just as good for the country’s image as any other competitor. And they deserve equal support and, more importantly, respect.