22 Feb 2019

Halberg awards - help or hindrance for NZ sport?

1:04 pm on 22 February 2019

Opinion - Did you know the Emirates yachting syndicate won last year's supreme Halberg award?

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Men's shot putter Tom Walsh took out the Supreme award at Thursday night's Halbergs. Photo: Photosport

I have to say that it came as a complete surprise to me, when I looked it up last night. Then again, it was only recently that I even became aware that Emirates hold the America's Cup.

Thing is, you can live very happily in New Zealand - and even make a living in the media - by being ignorant of all sorts of things.

My ignorance is of the wilful variety. I'm conscious that people get very worked up about things such as who wins what Halberg, but not me. No, I prefer to let it all pass me by.

That's not to say the various category winners shouldn't be thrilled by their achievements. Just that the rest of us aren't obliged to share that enthusiasm.

For the record, the 2018 supreme Halberg went to men's shotputter Tom Walsh on Thursday night. I know this because I was sent a press release and asked to write a comment piece about the outcome.

Clearly, whether Walsh was the right choice is better debated by people other than me.

Again, I've nothing against the Halbergs. For me, they're right up there with the Golden Globes, Grammys, Oscars and any other awards you might care to mention.

Take them seriously if you must, but don't insist that others have to join you.

If only it were so simple. Sadly, we can't even have a bird of the year competition in this country without people messing about with the voting system or crying foul if their favoured Fantail doesn't win.

It's absurd, but no more illogical than trying to compare shotputters with canoe racers or those who coach just one athlete as opposed to others trying to generate good outcomes for an entire team.

And don't turn around and say they're all winners and all achievers. If that were the case they wouldn't be giving trophies to some people at the expense of others.

Those who protest too much about the worth of the Halbergs often try and shame you into caring by talking about the Halberg Foundation. Set up by former Olympic Games gold medal-winning runner Murray Halberg, the foundation is something to be celebrated.

Halberg was left crippled by a shoulder injury suffered while playing rugby aged 17. Left-handed, Halberg first learned to do everything with his right hand, then set about becoming a world-class middle distance athlete.

Better yet, in retirement, he built a foundation to help young physically disabled people participate in sport.

You can only admire the work Halberg and his foundation have done, all while wondering how those ideals of engagement and equality marry with a black-tie do that pits various sports people against one another.

Because rather than being a celebration of sporting excellence, or an acknowledgement of the fine work the foundation does, the Halbergs become about partisanship.

They don't bring a community together so much as divide it, through the inevitable bun fight over who should've got what.

It's unedifying and unnecessary and often creates a bitterness that we can surely do without.

Well done to Walsh and to category winners Lisa Carrington, Adam Hall, the Black Ferns sevens, Gordon Walker and Maddison-Lee Wesche. Congratulations to the unsuccessful finalists for their own achievements as well.

But it's hard not to feel as if we'd all be better off without events such as these. Or at least pretending that they don't exist.

* Hamish Bidwell is a contributor to Radio New Zealand. He has previously worked at The Northern Advocate, Gisborne Herald, Hawke's Bay Today, The Press, The Dominion Post and Stuff.

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