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Friday, September 24, 2021

Explained: Why New Zealand’s football team, the All Whites, could have a new name

The all-white kit led to a commentator calling them 'All Whites', riffing on the rugby team's 'All Blacks' nickname. The name stuck, even though the team plays its away ties in a black kit with white trim.

Written by Gaurav Bhatt , Edited by Explained Desk | New Delhi |
Updated: August 29, 2021 10:02:05 pm
The all-white kit led to a commentator calling them 'All Whites', riffing on the rugby team's 'All Blacks' nickname. (Reuters Photo)

The ‘All Whites’ nickname used by New Zealand’s national football team could soon be ditched as the association has launched a review into cultural diversity. The New Zealand Football association (NZF) has said it is working with stakeholders and people from outside the sport during its “journey around cultural inclusivity.”

While teams in American sports — most notably Washington Redskins and Cleveland Indians — have recently undergone name changes and dropped offensive imagery, New Zealand organisations too are evaluating a number of aspects and adopting names and identities incorporating Maori culture and language.

How did the ‘All Whites’ name come about and why could it be changed?

The ‘All Whites’ name was used for the national team during the 1982 World Cup qualifiers, when the players first appeared in an all-white uniform against Taiwan. Previously the team had mostly donned black shorts, white shirts and white socks. The all-white kit led to a commentator calling them ‘All Whites’, riffing on the rugby team’s ‘All Blacks’ nickname. The name stuck, even though the team plays its away ties in a black kit with white trim.

Last week, the New Zealand Football association (NZF) announced a review into cultural diversity. Reports claimed that the ‘All Whites’ nickname is among the many aspects being evaluated by the governing body, which is “on a journey around cultural inclusivity”.

“As with many other national bodies, New Zealand Football is on a journey around cultural inclusivity and respecting the principles of Te Tiriti o Waitangi,” NZF said in a statement, referring to the treaty between the British crown and Maori chiefs signed in 1840. “It is too early in the process to speak about any outcomes but this is an important piece of work as we strive to be the most inclusive sport in Aotearoa (Maori name of New Zealand).”

What has been the reaction to the news?

The reports have led to a debate between tradition and inclusivity.

Vaughan Coveny, who played for New Zealand from 1992 to 2006, was “baffled” by the idea of a name change.

“I am a bit of a traditionalist, I played there for many years and I am surprised they want to do that. It sort of baffles me why they want to go down the track. Will they also then change the All Blacks?” Coveny told the Sydney Morning Herald. “What’s the need to change it? It’s been like that for many years. It’s about the history, the sport and how far it goes back. The All Whites have always been the New Zealand soccer team, ever since I was a kid. From the day you’re born you’re brought up with it, you go through your years playing soccer and looking up to that.”

Wynton Rufer — one of New Zealand’s best footballers ever and a “proud Maori” who was a member of the 1982 team called it “absolute madness.”

“It’s very special to every player that’s played in the national team,” Rufer said on SENZ Mornings. “The All Blacks brand is iconic, and this is no different… It’s absolute madness that this is going on and they could even bring it into question. It’s incredible. It’s rubbish, and I’m Maori, I’m proud on my mother’s side.”

Former captain Ryan Nelsen told Radio NZ the name should go if “it displeases a tiny minority”.

“Just because it’s been around doesn’t mean it’s right,” the former Blackburn and Tottenham defender said. “We should be having this conversation about inclusivity. (The name) shouldn’t have any negative connotations at all.”

The team wears an all white jersey, but plays its away ties in a black kit with white trim. (Reuters Photo)

Former player, union representative and commentator Harry Ngata meanwhile said that he does not have a personal view but could see both sides of the debate.

“A lot of our sporting teams are based on colour,” Ngata told AAP. “Twenty years ago the name wouldn’t have raised an eyebrow. That’s just the way it was. The class of 2010 are a lot more progressive. (A change) is probably inevitable that given the circumstances, the climate we’re living in at the moment.”

What is the history behind the rugby team’s ‘All Blacks’ nickname?

A lot of New Zealand’s sporting nomenclature is colour-based. The men’s cricket and basketball teams are called the ‘Black Caps’ and ‘Tall Blacks’, respectively. Other colour-based nicknames include White Ferns (women’s cricket), Black Ferns (women’s rugby), Silver Ferns (women’s netball), Black Sticks (men’s and women’s hockey), Mat Blacks (men’s indoor bowls) etc.

The most prominent example, however, remains the men’s rugby team or the ‘All Blacks’. Initially called Maorilanders, the New Zealanders or even the Colonials, the rugby team got the classic nickname during the 1905 tour to the British Isles, France and Canada, when they ditched the white shorts for black ones. While the obvious theory is that the name was a result of the all-black uniforms, according to an original ‘All Black’, it was borne out of a printing error.

Speaking at the team’s 50th Jubilee celebrations in 1955, Billy Wallace said that the name was a typo in the Daily Mail. After the visiting team’s 63-0 win over Hartlepool, the English newspaper had intended to use the headline ‘New Zealand team all backs’, describing the forwards who could pass as well as any back. The printer however made it ‘All Black’,

“The Daily Mail took it up and we went to Ireland and we were on our way to have a bit of a practice and they announced the route in the papers and everybody was at the gate to see the ‘All Blacks’ go past,” said Wallace. “… and they all thought we were a lot of, you know, blacks and when they saw us go past ‘Bejasus, they are as white as ourselves, as white as ourselves’.”

Have other team names been controversial in New Zealand?

In June 2005, Badminton New Zealand told the NZ Herald that the body was considering a marketing-friendly moniker for its team: The Black Cocks.

“We’re quite happy with the Black Cocks if everyone thinks it’s a good name… some of the leading players don’t seem to mind,” Badminton New Zealand chief executive Peter Dunne told the paper. “I know some people won’t like it, I guess there will be players who will mind as the sport is being played by a lot of Asians and Polynesians or Maori as well as white players. There will be some who will be offended — maybe.”

Three months later, Badminton NZ said that the International Badminton Federation didn’t want to see the game “lose its composure for the want of a gimmicky name”.

Badminton NZ president Nigel Skelt told NZ Herald that the public reaction was positive. “At the recent New Zealand Open, crowds were yelling out ‘c’mon the Black Cocks’. Whether the team actually adopt the name officially, they’re already known as the Black Cocks.”

More recently, the most successful Super Rugby side Canterbury Crusaders launched an extensive review in June 2019, three months after the Christchurch mosque shooting. The Christchurch-based team’s name and logo were put under scanner for the references to the medieval “crusades”, the bloody conflicts between Christians and Muslims. The team’s 25-year-old logo — a knight brandishing a sword — was changed to a Maori motif.

“While the main focus of the brand review was not the club’s name, it did consider whether alternative name options would more accurately reflect the club’s identity and story,” a joint statement by the Crusaders and NZ Rugby said. “Ultimately, it was decided that no name better represented the club’s commitment to living its values – crusading for social improvement and inclusiveness, and crusading with heart for our community and for each other – than ‘Crusaders’ did.”

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