23 Aug 2021

Football legend all for All Whites name conversation

11:56 am on 23 August 2021

It's a name etched in New Zealand sporting folklore.

2010 FIFA World Cup Qualification playoff vs Bahrain, November 14th 2009: 
Tim BROWN Chris KILLEN Shane SMELTZ Mark PASTON Tony LOCHHEAD Rory FALLON (bottom from L) Ben SIGMUND Ryan NELSEN Leo BERTOS Ivan VICELICH Michael McGLINCHEY Pressefoto ULMER/Simon Watts

Ben Sigmund (bottom L) in an All Whites team photo from the 2009 playoff vs Bahrain Photo: AFP

But, almost 40 years since its inception, the All Whites moniker for the men's national football team is under the microscope.

And the fact the names' appropriateness is being reviewed - as the national body pursue greater cultural inclusivity - is being welcomed by New Zealand football legend Ryan Nelsen.

"Even it displeases a tiny minority then that for me is enough to change it. Just because it's been around for [so long] doesn't mean it's right.

"It doesn't mean it's wrong, but we should be having this conversation about inclusivity. [The name] shouldn't have any negative connotations at all. "

New Zealand Football chief executive Andrew Pragnell isn't commenting on the potential change.

In a statement, the national body say they are on a journey around cultural inclusivity and looking at all areas of the organisation to make sure they are fit for purpose in 2021 and beyond.

But some aren't so happy.

Sam Malcolmson was part of the New Zealand squad when the All Whites name was coined, on route to their historic qualification for the 1982 World Cup.

"The greatest single breakthrough in New Zealand football in the last century would be the 82 All Whites getting to Spain, their first ever World Cup finals.

"It broke down the barriers and showed that a New Zealand football team could actually get to the world stage.

"It's very important we don't throw history out the window."

All Whites souvenir biscuit tin

All Whites souvenir biscuit tin Photo: https://nzhistory.govt.nz

Malcolmson says the name's creation had nothing to do with culture or race.

He recalls when it came about, during the third match of their qualifying campaign against Taiwan, in Taiwan.

"We used to play in a white shirt, black shorts and white socks. But that night we ended up with the white shorts.

"I think it might have been somebody on the broadcast kind of glibly said 'and here come the All Whites', and it stuck ever since."

Almost four decades on, he sees no reason to do away with it.

"The All Whites is a very precious name, very distinctive.

"It's for the premier team in New Zealand football, and that should not ever be allowed to change."

Ryan Nelsen is well aware of the history.

He helped write a significant chapter of it, leading the All Whites to the 2010 World Cup, where they finished as the only team with an undefeated record.

Nelsen says while generations have grown up knowing the name, for him it was never a key motivator.

"I didn't play for the name, the All Whites, I played for New Zealand and the country.

"That's all I cared about was representing five million New Zealanders and the football community.

"What name is associated with that, so be it. If it was called any other name, it wouldn't have changed my way of thinking."

New Zealand Football have announced an interim chief executive.

New Zealand Football have announced an interim chief executive. Photo: Photosport

New Zealand Football's push for greater cultural inclusivity comes on the back of the heightened worldwide awareness around racism and racial inequality.

AUT senior marketing lecturer, Dr Jessica Vredenburg, expects strong opinions on both sides.

She understands why the national body is looking at the All Whites name.

"Even though there are those strong ties and the intention was not to be harmful, if it is being perceived in that way by wider society and others who maybe don't know the story of the name and how it came to be, are they potentially unintentionally contributing to this wider issue."

And with many of our national sports teams having similar monikers, Dr Vredenburg says this situation may well set a precedent for others.

"By changing one, if that's what goes through, then what might be the carry on to the rest of the teams. It will definitely be a conversation that will be had.

"I'm not sure how far or how quickly that might spread … but [the All Whites] would be the odd one out if it was the only one to potentially change."

As far as Nelsen is concerned, that precedent can only be a good thing.

"If I was an All Black and somebody said to me there's a few people that think that name wasn't good, I'd say the same.

"My generation grew up only knowing the All Blacks, I only called them the All Blacks. There is a whole brand around them, and there's a whole brand around the All Whites. I get it.

"But it's just a name. It's still the New Zealand rugby team, it's still the New Zealand football team."

New Zealand Football say it will be months, not weeks, before the wider project concerning cultural inclusivity is completed.