Hobson Article - November 2015
I had some fun last month, traveling to the UK for a week to play for the Parliamentary rugby side. Rest assured it wasn’t a taxpayer funded trip – we paid our own way, with some support from sponsors. Nine New Zealand MPs spearheaded the team (if that’s the right term), bolstered by an assortment of parliamentary staff, former staff, people with loose connections to parliament who could play a bit and a couple of outright ring-ins.
This idea of a Parliamentary rugby world cup started with Nelson Mandela in 1995, when South Africa hosted the cup and Mandela invited parliamentarians from rugby playing countries to play in a tournament the week before the official cup. Mandela’s vision was to use sport to build bridges between countries. Every four years the dream is kept alive and I was very pleased to part of it.
We played Wales, Argentina and France. The Aussies, English, South Africans and Japanese were in the other pool. I can report that we were unbeaten. In fact, nobody crossed our line. I scored a try from my position on the right wing, which was outrageously disallowed by an English ref. Such were the rules of the tournament, however, that Australia won the cup, because they also were unbeaten in their pool and had scored more points than us. So much, so frustrating, but I returned with numerous personal friendships with MPs from around the world.
Who knows when and if those connections will prove useful, but as with so much in life, you ‘cast your bread on the water’ knowing that amongst all the wasted effort there will be some success.
I went for several reasons. Partly to meet international MPs, and partly for the fun of it. Even aged 44 few things are more exhilarating than running on to the pitch with my band of brothers at Rugby School, the home of the game, against a passionate Argentinian team.
But the best of it for me was the opportunity to spend time with my fellow New Zealand Parliamentarians. Along with two of my National colleagues, Mark Mitchell and Alfred Ngaro, the team included Winston Peters and five Labour MPs: Stuart Nash, Peeni Henare, Kris Faafoi, Kelvin Davis and Damien O’Connor.
Parliament can be a hostile and combative place. That hostility can often be very destructive and counter-productive. Sides are drawn, assumptions are made and people can fall into the habit of shouting past each other. I discovered after a week on tour that the Labour boys did not have horns coming out of their foreheads, and maybe they realised the same of me. I had a few late night sessions with our media manager, Mr Peters.
Again, who knows what will result from the bonds of friendship and fellowship we forged, but I’m sure that down the line they will prove helpful as we work together in the national interest.
In reality, New Zealand politics is not blighted by the extremes of partisanship evident in other parts of the world. That is something special about New Zealand, which I believe we should work hard to preserve and maintain. Sport has a funny way of drawing people together.