Joining forces

Sometimes, you need to make peace to make progress. And could sport, in that regard, provide a lesson for all of us?

There have been intriguing developments on the southern football scene to start the new year.

Prompted by sweeping changes driven by New Zealand Football that have shaken up the whole structure of the sport at the domestic level, long-time Dunedin club rivals Caversham and Dunedin Technical are in advanced talks to merge, forming a team tentatively titled South Coast United.

That team, part of a "hub" that also involves clubs Melchester Rovers and Hereweka, would then aim to be a regular member of the new-look South Island men’s league, and even challenge for a place in the national league when it reverts to a club-based format.

This is a seismic move, and a fascinating glimpse into what the future might hold for grassroots sport in many corners of the South.

Caversham and Dunedin Technical might conduct their operations within a stone’s throw of each other in South Dunedin, but they have been very separate entities for a long time — Tech was founded in 1920, Caversham in 1931.

They have been "at war", two alpha dogs on the local football scene, for so long that it is not immediately simple to grasp the concept of them becoming full allies, blending players and volunteers and administrators into one.

But this is a move that clearly has some benefits. A "hub" approach means resources can be pooled, duties shared, depth strengthened, cashflow boosted, and opportunities for advancement enhanced.

Could there also be some down sides? Naturally. Football, like many sports, is a tribal affair — and when two tribes become one, conflict can occur.

Perhaps loyal supporters of the two football clubs will be uneasy about embracing a new team name and identity. Perhaps some players will become disheartened at missing out on selection. Perhaps South Coast United will become a short-lived footnote to history like rugby’s ill-fated Central Vikings.

For now, let’s see this as a potentially exciting move that needs to be given a chance. We will watch with interest.

Also, this could become a familiar theme — clubs bonding together for the greater good — in the coming years as grassroots sporting organisations continue to battle against the societal and professional forces that have made their lives difficult.

We have already seen this summer the presence of a combined team, Carisbrook-Dunedin/Kaikorai, in Dunedin club cricket. It seems likely more mergers, in various other codes, will eventually follow.

And what about outside the sporting arena? In the wider community, are there lessons to be learned — for businesses, communities, schools — around the value of sharing resources and ideas and labour?

The Covid-19 pandemic has taught us that we can be stronger together. Whether it is a team of five million, or a team of 11 footballers, much can be achieved when we take a united approach.

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