Football: D’Arcy Waldegrave: Change All Whites’ name? Why NZ Football should let this one go

OPINION:

New Zealand Football has its heart in the right place. Their recent search to find a happy place in the fraught world of inappropriate sporting monikers is a great move but in the wrong direction.

I applaud the body for investigating what is deemed acceptable in a rapidly changing and increasingly aware society. In this case, however, I believe they should let this one sail over the crossbar.

This strike at their own name is brave, an attack on what sets them apart in a New Zealand sporting landscape bathed in black. Or silver. Or a fern. The All Whites as a name is unusual, as it doesn’t rest on black – Black Caps, All Blacks, Black Sox, Tall Blacks, Black Sticks, Black Jacks, Black Ferns etc.

The name has a pertinent back story, a little too fresh to be called traditional, but it sits comfortably in New Zealand’s sporting vernacular. The term only dates back to the team’s breakthrough World Cup appearance of 1982, and references an enforced change to their kit, replacing the previous black shorts with white – hence the All Whites.

It’s also an obvious elbow to the ribs of the All Blacks; a gentle bit of inter-code banter based purely and obviously on a uniform.

Simple right?

Well, no.

The connotations of such a name sit uncomfortably in the current climate. NZF has recognised this and chose to dig deeper as part of a review around cultural inclusivity and the principles of Te Tiriti o Waitangi.

NZF wouldn’t comment but did release a statement: “As part of our Delivery and Sustainability Project announced last year, we are in the process of working with stakeholders across the game, as well as people from outside football, looking at all areas of the organisation to make sure they are fit for purpose in 2021 and beyond. 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.”

This is admirable and necessary from the sport. There is everything right about organisations re-evaluating and retooling to embrace the variables of a modern New Zealand. Here though, NZF has donned the leather jacket, kick-started the Triumph, and are about to jump the shark. I suspect the results of their process will alert them to this.

It looks like the drive behind this is the fear of global opinion. From the outside looking in, I understand the concern. On the surface, the name All Whites conjures up some awful reckons – as I’m sure do the All Blacks, White Ferns, White Sox, Black Ferns, Black Caps, and Tall Blacks.

In New Zealand, we know and understand where these names come from. We are proud of their history and shouldn’t be phased by overseas opinions.

I know we have an odd tendency to care deeply about what the globe thinks of us, but in this instance, we need to let it go. A little research from concerned parties would see them right, it’s not our job to spoon-feed international hand-wringers.

New Zealand Football should be recognised for at least bringing the matter to the fore, and examining what the name means to Kiwis. There is no harm in raising these issues. Re-examining what your sport does is a gutsy move, but I’m sure that the name will remain.

If NZF decides that the All Whites as a brand is untenable, I get the feeling that New Zealanders will carry on using it regardless.

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