The role of politics in sport has always been cloudy, but it
played a clear hand in helping secure the All Whites an
international against China in Shanghai, not to mention
sponsorship from a company accused of spying by the US
Ricki Herbert's side will play their 13th international of
the year in Shanghai on November 14 but the result could be
overshadowed by discussions behind the scenes by diplomats
New Zealand diplomats who helped arrange the match will meet
their Chinese counterparts in Shanghai to discuss improving
relations and opportunities between the two countries.
Co-operation between sport, politics and business is
increasingly visible and it's something being embraced by New
Zealand Football. Chief executive Grant McKavanagh even spoke
today about "football diplomacy", and former All Whites
manager Phil Warbrick is also assisting NZF in a
It's something happening in other sports, too. Last year
former New Zealand cricket captain Stephen Fleming
accompanied Prime Minister John Key to India and All Blacks
captain Richie McCaw is an ambassador for Fonterra and visits
Discussions about a match against China started in February
at the All Whites' game against Jamaica when National list MP
Jian Yang broached the possibility of New Zealand playing
China to recognise 40 years of diplomatic relations between
They gathered pace when New Zealand diplomats visited China
One of the biggest impediments to progress was money, but
various Chinese donors were found and Chinese technology
giants Huawei were brought on board as matchday sponsors -
the first time NZF have had one.
Huawei's involvement adds another level of intrigue to the
game, given accusations of spying were levelled at them by
the US Government. The company, which denies the allegations,
secured contracts last year with Chorus to supply equipment
for the New Zealand Government's rural broadband initiative.
"We are all about football. That's our job," McKavanagh said
clearly wanting to avoid discussions about Huawei's
suitability as a sponsor. "We are grateful to have them come
on board and put the match on.
"The opportunity to open doors up is something we have been
talking to the [New Zealand] Government about. It's a real
opportunity to get over and for the Government to extend an
It's also a chance for Herbert to assemble his side ahead of
next year's final push for a place at the 2014 World Cup. The
All Whites are in the box seat to win the Oceania group and a
defeat of New Caledonia next March will see them qualify for
a home-and-away intercontinental playoff next November.
McKavanagh said Herbert was committed to picking his
strongest side to play China, including captain Ryan Nelsen
and Winston Reid, who both play in the English Premier
Whether that happens is still to play out, given the status
of the game and the pressure that comes from club managers,
but it will also be the last time they will assemble before
the match against New Caledonia.
NZF hope to play China more often and next month's game will
be the second in two years - the two sides drew 1-1 in Wuhan
in 2011 - and 13th since the first in 1981 when the All
Whites beat China 2-1 in Singapore to qualify for the 1982
China have struggled on the international stage for a number
of years but are starting to make progress and are presently
ranked seven places ahead of New Zealand at 85.
Discussions are also underway about creating a tri-series
with Australia who, according to McKavanagh, are also
interested in more regular matches with New Zealand.