24 Jul 2020

NZ's big sporting controversies

From The Detail, 5:00 am on 24 July 2020
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Photo: Photosport

The recent turbulence around Team New Zealand's defence of the America's Cup involves a Hungarian bank account, accusations of subterfuge, and armies of PR advisers.

It almost makes you nostalgic for the good old days - when a sporting scandal involved an All Black front rower getting into a bit of a ruckus with a security guard, before disappearing into the Australian outback for half a century.

Today on The Detail, Emile Donovan speaks to sports journalist and NewstalkZB host Phil Gifford about some of the most salacious scandals of years gone by, and how this most recent iteration compares.

We couldn’t cover everything so first, a few honourable mentions.

The underarm delivery of 1981 for example, when Australia captain Greg Chappell instructed his bowler (and younger brother) Trevor to deliver the final ball to Brian McKechnie underarm, so McKechnie couldn't hit it for six and possibly tie the match.

Trevor Chappell in the infamous underarm bowling incident of 1981.

Trevor Chappell in the infamous underarm bowling incident of 1981. Photo: PHOTOSPORT

The former Australian captain and legendary broadcaster Richie Benaud didn't hold back in his post-match assessment.

"I think it was a disgraceful performance from a captain who got his sums wrong ... and it should never be permitted to happen again.

"It's one of the worst things I've ever seen done on a cricket field. Goodnight."

Cricket went through another mucky period in 2013 when the ICC accused a trio of New Zealanders – Chris Cairns, Lou Vincent and Daryl Tuffey – of match fixing. The following year Vincent admitted being involved and testified against Cairns, but no one was convicted. In 2015 Cairns was tried in London for perjury but once again the verdict was not guilty.

It was in the UK too that in 2000 a British newspaper carried out a tabloid sting on our most successful equestrian, Olympian Mark Todd, with a sex and drugs scandal that was never quite cleared up. Todd rode the storm, answering a Paul Holmes question about the events with the famous quote, “that’s a curly one”.

Sir Mark Todd.

Sir Mark Todd - "that's a curly one." Photo: Photosport

Then there's the 1976 Montreal Olympics boycott: earlier in the year, the All Blacks had toured South Africa, in defiance of the UN's calls for a sporting embargo.

Some African nations, incensed by the tour, demanded the International Olympic Committee exclude New Zealand from the games, but the IOC found no grounds to do so.

Instead, some 20 African nations elected to boycott the Olympics - causing a massive reorganisation of scheduled events.

But the upheaval wasn't the only time a rugby tour involving New Zealand and South Africa would cause consternation.

Asked about the most notable sporting scandal he's covered so far in his 50-year career, NewstalkZB host Phil Gifford is unequivocal.

"The most effect on the country, without question, was the 1981 Springbok tour ... the most extraordinary time of my lifetime before Covid-19. No question about that.

"By the time the team came here, the whole tour was a massive political issue.

"In Auckland, where I was living at the time, it divided the city extraordinarily.

Anti Springbok tour protesters in Hamilton, 1981. Photo by Phil Reid.

Anti Springbok tour protesters in Hamilton, 1981. Photo by Phil Reid. Photo: National Library

"I had friends in rugby clubs on the North Shore, and it had a devastating effect, for years, because parents said [they] didn't want to be involved with a game that was in bed with apartheid-era South Africa.

Phil Gifford says his own thoughts on the matter were torn.

"On one hand, I'm a completely rugby tragic: but on the other hand I was vehemently anti-South Africa ... there's this game I adore, but the people that run the sport are doing something that I found reprehensible."

"I remember Kel Tremain saying to me, 'before these Springboks arrived, nobody was keener than me to see them there. Now, I can't wait for the buggers to get on a plane and go home, because they've wrecked our country, and the worst thing is: they don't give a stuff."

This is just one of the scandals Phil Gifford touches on - for more, including his theory about the 1995 World Cup, and a vivid description of the physical side-effects of steroid use in the 1970s, listen to the full podcast above.