Opinion: Is it time to add sport to the Waitangi Day mix?

The New Zealand team does the haka to celebrate winning the final of the 2011 Wellington Sevens...
The New Zealand team does the haka to celebrate winning the final of the 2011 Wellington Sevens tournament at Westpac Stadium. Photo by NZPA Images.
Another Waitangi Day has passed and, for some, it was yet another day at work, a holiday, an opportunity to reflect on our nation's history, or a day to debate race relations and what it means to be a New Zealander.

Whether we see it as a positive or a negative, it is New Zealand's national day that acknowledges the Treaty of Waitangi as our founding document.

New Zealanders don't tend to shout from the roof tops how proud we are of our history as a nation, unless it is to do with sport, and even then we are lukewarm in our enthusiasm compared with, for instance, the Americans during occasions such as the Super Bowl.

The day on which the Super Bowl is played is now considered by some to be a de facto American national holiday, and Super Bowl XLVII didn't disappoint when it came to over-the-top drama and ''Americanisation''.

Both teams were previously undefeated at the Super Bowl, two brothers were opposing coaches, there was a 34-minute blackout to add to the drama, Beyonce's much-anticipated halftime performance delivered, and there were enough ticket sales, food consumption, television viewers, and expensive advertising space to make capitalists around the world puff up with pride.

Does New Zealand have a sporting event to rival the Super Bowl that would start a new chapter in our nation's history? What other sporting product in New Zealand creates just as much intensity and drama as the Super Bowl? In terms of party atmosphere, consumption and sporting excitement the Wellington Sevens is probably the closest we'd get. Watch out Super Bowl, here comes the Super Cake Tin.

Imagine organising the ''Super Sevens'' to fall either side of Waitangi Day. People could choose to dress in something that expresses their sense of national pride, icons, or caricatures.

Already, the crowd at the Wellington Sevens embrace each other irrespective of their political beliefs or state of intoxication. Wouldn't it be great to see people smiling and celebrating in this fashion during Waitangi Day?Of course, there will always be those who want to protest and challenge the status quo. That is what makes our country such a great place to live. Everyone has the chance to express themselves, and to disagree and debate in an atmosphere that is relatively safe compared with what tends to occur internationally.

There always seem to be protesters at the Wellington Sevens, protesting, for instance, against the political coup in Fiji. So what better platform to do that on than a packed out Cake Tin with a large television audience both domestically and internationally?

Alternatively, what about playing an annual fixture between the All Blacks and the Maori All Blacks on February 6 to emphasise the ''national'' nature of rugby union, and to recognise the spirit of the Treaty of Waitangi while embracing our multicultural New Zealand face today?

What would happen if the All Blacks lost? Would this indicate that Maori will ''take over'' New Zealand and kick all other ethnicities out? No, but perhaps the political nature of such a fixture is why it remains in the ''ideas that are too volatile'' folder at the NZRU headquarters.

Following the rugby theme, there could be a Ranfurly Shield challenge match on Waitangi Day because, in many ways, the Log o' Wood is probably the closest we get to the devoted fever that the Super Bowl causes for millions of Americans.

In no way am I suggesting rugby will bind all New Zealanders into one warm and fuzzy bundle. There are other sports that we pride ourselves on, and that may be more effective in terms of creating nationalistic passion and pride.

It seems the Coast to Coast is in need of a makeover, according to Richard Ussher, so hosting that around Waitangi Day and linking to New Zealand's early history along the journey could be one way of revving up this well-loved event that exudes that incandescent ''she'll be right, mate'' Kiwi can-do attitude.

There are numerous festivals and events at a local level that occur up and down the country on February 6, and my challenge to sport event organisers and national sporting organisations is to see if Waitangi Day could be associated with some culturally meaningful sporting event.

Why not let our passion for sport transfer to our love for our country which embraces our heritage as well as our future?

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