The article below first appeared in the Backtalk section of issue #3 of the magazine revolution, August/September 1997. While 18 years old, it deals with issues that are still very much with us.

by Grant Cronin

downloadThere has been much hoopla in the media recently about the victories of Aranui High School’s First XV and their success in this year’s under-18 competition. This media coverage reached a climax with the arrival of the All Blacks in Christchurch to play the Bledisloe Cup test against Australia, as the Aranui team got to meet and train with the All Blacks. The Christchurch Mail of July 3, for instance, ran a picture of the captain of the Aranui team, Daniel Iosefo, shaking hands with Sean Fitzpatrick.

While there is much to applaud in the Aranui team’s victories over the horse-faced sons of the ruling class – and the complaints of parents from the elite schools about ‘hard tackling’ by Aranui players provide a good laugh – the important battles in society are not won and lost on the footy field. In spite of their rugby success Aranui remains one of the poorest schools in Christchurch and the community it serves is still trapped in a spiral of poverty, unemployment and poor health.

While the students of St Andrews and Christchurch Boys meet the Aranui players as equals on the field, in the wider society the story is much different. What this means is that, in the face of widening social inequalities and privileges, schools like Aranui turn to the ‘feelgood factor’ which plays an increasingly important part in managing the crisis of slump capitalism.

Faced with a distinct lack of employment opportunities outside of school, or the chance of an education that will enable them to change society, the highlight of their lives is to play in the test curtain-raiser. As headmaster Graeme Plummer comments about the rugby team’s success: “It is always good when the community’s got something to cheer about, and this has been great for the community” (Christchurch Star, July 2). Of course, what may be better for the community is more resources for schools, better health care, jobs, childcare facilities and a chance for a decent life.

The contradiction between the ‘feel good’ factor and social reality is nowhere more obvious than in the picture of highly-paid professional Sean Fitzpatrick shaking hands with the captain of the Aranui First XV. Sean Fitzpatrick and all the All-Blacks are supported, sponsored and paid by the giant corporations that need and create communities like Aranui all over the world. Not only this, but the image of professional athletes seems to offer an escape from poverty – what is known in America as ‘hoop dreams’ – which has little chance of realisation for the majority of Aranui’s rugby players. This also is part of the strategy of negotiating the limits of advancement under slump capitalism.

Lthus, instead of understanding and trying to change the conditions of communities like Aranui, individuals are offered images of escape and success that are less likely than winning Lotto. However, the success of a school like Aranui is highlighted in the media and applauded by the All Blacks because it offers the exception that seems to break the rule of oppression and increasing poverty under capitalism.

Unfortunately, pointing out the exceptional record of the Aranui rugby team cannot hide the social problems of Aranui and communities like it throughout New Zealand. The media and the All Blacks become cheerleaders for a crap social system that will never deliver all the things we need. Beyond the footy field most of us have nothing to cheer about.

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