An effort to protect the All Blacks manager under fire from a media mayhem last weekend inflamed commentators already grumpy about the historic authoritarianism of rugby bosses. But given the intensity of some media calls for heads to roll, Mediawatch asks a veteran sports journalist if the decision made sense.
Scorched earth in heat-stricken Europe caught fire this week as we were hit with severe storms, snow and floods. Inflation rose again, there were dozens more Covid deaths and the Prime Minister and Governor General were pictured in Parliament unmasked.
But nothing has consumed more oxygen in the media this week than the fallout from the All Blacks’ defeat to Ireland last weekend.
The Irish Independent newspaper hailed “the Dukes of Wellington” and Dublin-based sports commentators Second Captains applauded the respect shown to them in New Zealand.
“There were a lot of very magnanimous handshakes. They lose with dignity even though they don’t have much practice,” Eion McDevit said in a podcast dedicated to Ireland’s triumph.
“But they’re going to tear each other apart, obviously,” he added.
And there were a lot of them in our media last week.
Under the anguished title: When you accept mediocrity, this is what happens, Jamie Wall was not so courteous.
“Ireland have gone from being a fun little spectacle to a team that now boasts a majority of players who have beaten the All Blacks more times than they have lost,” he wrote.
“A child born last year in New Zealand must have suffered more All Black losses against Ireland in his lifetime than a centenarian who died in 2019,” he added (How many fans measure their time on the planet like this?).
After Newstalk ZB’s Jason Pine launched his ZB Sunday Sports Performing with U2’s “Sunday Bloody Sunday” – a 40-year-old song about civil rights protesters gunned down in Londonderry 50 years ago – chair pickers called all afternoon asking for heads to roll.
When NZ Rugby chief executive Mark Robinson called the performance “unacceptable” it fueled rumors that the coach and captain would soon be sacked.
Liam Napier of the New Zealand Herald reported that NZ Rugby was “supposed to take a thoughtful and compassionate approach to the all-black crisis”.
In the same article, he calculated that removing the existing coaching staff would involve a payment of over $2 million.
This press conference canceled
TVNZ’s midday news on Wednesday led with news that may come after a New Zealand Rugby board meeting that day – even though there was no such meeting.
But another event that never happened also made headlines that day – a post-match press conference with the coach that was called off so suddenly that several reporters showed up without him. to know.
It became a story in its own right after former NZ Rugby journalist and PR man Mike Jaspers criticized the move on LinkedIn.
“Losing is bad enough…but indecision off the pitch is damaging to the fans, the brand and the morale of the team,” he said (adding #team #media, #brand , #AllBlacks).
“The media needs voices, not statements. And if you don’t fill the void, someone else will,” he added.
As if to make that exact point, the New Zealand Herald then turned that response into a story almost immediately on Tuesday afternoon.
And it led to another when current All Blacks communications manager Jo Malcolm – responding on the same platform – said she was the one who canceled the press conference.
“The media didn’t want answers. They wanted a coach to retire. So I’ll wear this. I was protecting people who were subjected to two weeks of hammering in the media,” she said.
An exchange of opinions on a social media platform wouldn’t normally matter, but it was front page news three days after the game.
“Team management claims responsibility for the cancellation of the press conference,” Newshub said – as if it were an act of terrorism.
In a longer online post, Jo Malcolm told her followers that she was “losing faith in people’s ability to be journalists, PRs and humans”.
“I now understand why Naomi Osaka refused to do press conferences. It’s brutal when you lose and tough questions have to be asked,” she said.
When tennis star Osaka cited his sanity for dodging mandatory press conferences last year, it divided sports media around the world.
Some journalists felt that major sports stars could not simply dismiss their commitments to the media. Others were praised for looking out for their own well-being.
But Ian Foster is not a fragile young sports star trying to find his way in the world. And NZ Rugby has no qualms deploying players young and old to promote sponsor products.
Meanwhile, on LinkedIn, some PR professionals also backed Jo Malcolm.
“Chin up, Jo,” said Peter Parussini, another former NZ Rugby PR man who is now governor of RNZ.
A Stuff story about Malcolm’s appeal seemed to approve of it:
“Malcolm’s first human approach is what critics of various sports have called a review of cycling, which was established following the alleged suicide of an Olympic cyclist. Olivia Podmore found the focus to be on results and medals rather than athletes, because human beings are detrimental to mental health and well-being.”
But for The Spinoff, sports commentator Scotty Stevenson penned a raunchy satire announcing that the All Blacks’ next Test could be canceled because of mean and demanding media.
Martin Devlin on The Platform said he couldn’t agree more when his former Radio Sport colleague Matt Gunn said: “They’re men. They’ve grown up. (They) are basically funded by the media and the public”.
“To run away for any reason and decide not to discuss it…was insane and stupid,” Gunn said in a weekly slot titled, ironically, “Let’s be positive.”
But with Ian Foster’s predecessor Sir Steve Hansen last weekend shortly before the decisive defeat, Martin Devlin proved more sympathetic.
“It’s all the BS and clickbait headlines and all the personal stuff that really offends me – especially when it’s directed at a guy like Ian Foster. I don’t think he’s getting an equal media break here,” said Devlin.
“There is criticism with work…and any coach understands that. But he has to be reasonably informed, I think, rather than emotional. And at the moment we are getting a bit emotional, I think,” replied Sir Steve. .
Humanity against responsibility
So was it a bad move to try to protect the coach and his captain by canceling the press conference?
“Yeah, it probably was. If you go back to the last time the media was really in tooth and claw mode against coach John Hart in 1998, then PR person Jane Dent was still getting John Hart or sometimes Wayne Smith answering questions from the media,” he said.
“I understand the feeling that Ian Foster needed a break but – a butch and macho as rugby is – it was probably a bad mistake to cancel a press conference at such short notice for reasons so obvious,” he told Mediawatch.
“I think it’s a laudable thing to try and protect people who you think might be hurt. But they’re two very smart and very mature guys. There’s enough support inside the All Blacks. , and they had until the next morning to figure out what they were going to say,” Gifford said.
“I would say your neighbor’s cousin could have figured out what questions would come up on Sunday morning after that dreadful game,” he said.
Gifford – who wrote a guide to Kiwi men’s health and wellbeing – now regrets calling out John Hart’s leadership all those years ago in very personal terms.
“I wrote things about him that basically portrayed him as an absolute villain of the century. I wasn’t alone, but hunting with a pack is no excuse. Sometimes it was really vicious, and so yes, I really do. Whether other people will come back to it in 20 or 30 years and regret some of the things said about Ian Foster… well, that remains to be seen,” he said.
Some sportswriters here appeared to settle accounts with NZ Rugby within minutes of the final whistle last weekend.
“Having had to bow and scratch at all times and put up with the All Blacks’ constant talk of their own exceptionalism, I can’t say anything for them,” Hamish Bidwell wrote on the RNZ Live Blog.
“The media tends to be wary of criticizing the coaching staff and the New Zealand team and rugby for fear of repercussions, but the season could be open after that,” he added.
However much power NZ Rugby has over journalists, it hasn’t stopped a wave of criticism in the media.
“Is there a deliberate policy to make it difficult for journalists? Sometimes it may seem like that. But overall I don’t think the relationship between the media and NZ Rugby is as bad as some Some of the really biting criticism…comes from people I haven’t seen in a Test match in years,” he said.
“If NZ Rugby could completely shut down the media then how on earth would so many stories that say the All Blacks are rubbish and Foster should be sacked pass?” He asked.