In a week or so I am to be instructed in the ways of the haka. In the event that this proves to be an Orwellian experience, in case I am rendered a Terpsichorean fool slathering and slobbering over the beauty of Maori dance culture, let me state now that I believe the haka to be a daft way to preview a sporting contest.
Enshrined in the rules and laws of almost any sport you care to study is the notion of ‘equity’. This is not a nod to the British theatrical union – even if Toby Flood’s family are that way inclined – but the idea that every sports man and woman should play by a set of rules that give all an equal chance.
This is transparently not the case with the haka or the cibi or the sipi tau or the siva tau or any of the other Pacific rituals that precede rugby matches. For these the opposition players are expected to stand around like a bunch of lemons while the Pacific boys pelt them with aggression.
Imagine if you said to Ray ‘Barney’ Barneveld (a darts player for the culturally deprived): “Sorry Ray, we are going to let Phil Taylor walk in to the strains of Fanfare for the Common Man and The Power, but you will have to stand there and wait. There’s no ‘Eye of the Tiger’ for you tonight.”
Mmm, it all seems a bit silly, which of course it is. As a boy I remember sitting on the press box steps – this was in the days before ‘ealth and safety – and thrilling to the sight of the All Blacks or the Tongans doing their dance thing. They weren’t very good at it then, but it did not matter, because it was all part of the entertainment.
That is no longer the case. The players and coaches are very well aware of the potential psychological advantage the haka bestows and have refined it over the years into an act of menace. Do you really imagine that Graham Henry would want his players to waste time on practising something that was worthless in the context of the match?
The shame of it all is that the IRB have stopped the opposition from reacting. The Aussie women were fined a thousand quid for advancing on the haka last year. The IRB boss said he did not want players doing something that would detract from the power and the dignity of the haka.
‘The power’ of the haka is a bit of a giveaway. It implies that it carries a force, which of course it does. But Australia and England and France and Wales and Ireland and Italy and South Africa and Canada and Japan and all the rest of them are just supposed to stand there and take it.
Piri Weepu can prowl around his men like a Tottenham gangster on a Saturday night. Ali Williams can advance past the supposed 10 metre exclusion zone and not get fined. But if Brian O’Driscoll responds by throwing a bit of grass in the air and gets spear tackled to the earth a few moments later, then the IRB does precisely nothing.
It will not do. When France play New Zealand on September 24th I hope they they walk down the throat of the haka just as they did four years ago. After all, the French have got a habit of behaving quite badly around the shores of New Zealand. And if the IRB try to fine the French Federation I hope that president Pierre Camou comes up with a few well known Gallic hand gestures of his own and refuses to pay.
I don’t object to the haka per se, but I do object to the IRB’s ridiculous attempt to prevent any reaction to it.