In a league of their own

Some time back I wrote a column deploring the sexual manners of Australia rugby league players and their tendency to come before the courts for excessive displays of physical "affection" towards their girlfriends, or others of the opposite sex with whom they happened to find themselves in hotel swimming pools, or in apartment bedrooms playing "stacks on the mill, pile on still", or in parking lots and back alleys open-throating gallons of vodka until their clothes fell off and someone got a bloody nose - if she was lucky.

That was a cruel and reckless slur.

It generalised from a limited particular to tarnish the reputation of an entire sport full, as it is, of good, honest, work-hard play-hard sportsmen with an undying love of the game, and a sufficient appreciation of the finer points of social etiquette to make Grandma purr.

I know that now.

I was, quite rightly, upbraided for my remarks by colleagues and acquaintances alike.

It saw me all but banned from one of the few pubs in the southern hemisphere that has the nous to sell a decent British bitter like Old Speckled Hen.

I suspect my mate the publican is a mad passionate league fan, but then, as they say, there's no accounting for personal taste.

Since then, of course, I have been chastised by history as well.

I was not telling the full story.

Shame on me.

Top players - national heroes - have come out as drug cheats.

And, just last week, the champion team of the NRL, the Melbourne Storm, winner of numerous titles, got pinged for not being able to count where it counts.

Yep, sad as it may seem, a bunch of wussy bureaucrats who govern the sport got together and decided to punish the Storm just because the chaps in the accounts department couldn't do their adding up - with the result that, somehow, the total dosh handed out amounted to more than it was supposed to. (It breached the player salary cap.) How unfair is that? This is rugby league we're talking about, not the United Nations Maths Olympiad.

Switching to another sport altogether, I have warmed over the last several months to Prime Minister John Key - if not always to his policies then for the skills with which he fronts them.

He makes it all look so simple.

He takes the icky ideology out of ideas.

He takes the problematic principles out of politics.

The other night I found myself guffawing in admiration at the sheer chutzpah of the man.

He was being interviewed on television over the import and prospects of the whanau ora Maori welfare scheme.

He said something about New Zealanders being people prepared to give others less fortunate a "fair go", and then - and here's the kicker - said if it didn't work we'd just try something else.

Who could argue with that (except, perhaps, a Wellington suburb full of endangered civil servants who might protest about the potential waste of money in such a trial-and-error approach to social policy)?

Mr Key's response was brilliant in its simplicity, common-sense logic and appeal to the decency of ordinary New Zealanders.

Similarly the other day, when commentators were having a crack at National for signing up to the Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, he said words to the effect that it did not alter the status quo and was an "aspirational" document - which again was inspired.

Seems it means anything you want it to - which is precisely the approach one might expect from such other of its supporters as Burma, Somalia, Rwanda and Zimbabwe - those well-known champions of humans rights in whose company we are no doubt delighted to be.

Silly old Helen Clark and Co for having got their collective knickers in a twist over the "principle" of the thing.

And talking of Miss Clark, Mr Key is still glowing in the relaxed warmth he exudes in contrast to his predecessor.

There he was at the Anzac service and commemoration in Gallipoli, having dispensed with the formalities - he still makes something of a meal of his words, but then that can be endearing, too, because don't we all at times? - glad-handing, kissing and man-hugging the Kiwis who had gathered for the occasion.

He's emerging as a genuinely likeable "man of the people", a quality becoming not only his greatest asset but also helping prove sorely wrong those who had the temerity to underestimate him - your columnist included.

Simon Cunliffe is assistant editor at the Otago Daily Times.

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