In Or Out?

Leafing through the Sydney Morning Herald a few days ago, I saw that an interesting question had been raised.

In the 2000 World Cup, New Zealand were represented in two forms: both in the form of the traditional side and in the form of Aotearoa Maori. The side was, as the name suggests, comprised entirely of Maori players and represented New Zealand?s original inhabitants.

When the 2008 World Cup was announced, it was made clear that Aotearoa would not be given a chance to qualify, nor would a proposed Aboriginal Australian side. The reasoning behind this decision seems clear: Australia and New Zealand are both already represented at the World Cup. Surely if a Maori or Aboriginal player is good enough to represent his country, he will be included in one of those sides.

Some would argue that the Aboriginals and Maoris would be a more ?legitimate? side than the likes of Lebanon, who are made up predominantly of Australian residents relying on their ancestry to qualify. Of course, qualification rules for the 2008 World Cup specify that a nation must have at least six players either born in or playing in the nation to compete, but the point is valid.

From a competition standpoint, the inclusion of these two sides would undoubtedly raise the quality of matches. As it is only Australia, England, New Zealand, and perhaps France are legitimate chances of taking out the tournament. Aotearoa, whilst it did not perform too well in 2000, would undoubtedly produce an extra side capable of causing an upset. Likewise, Australian Aborigines would be a very competitive side.

The argument against their inclusion is twofold. Firstly, the inclusion of these two ?representative? sides would deprive other nations a chance to appear in the World Cup. Whilst the likes of Lebanon or Russia may not be a chance of winning the tournament, they most certainly would benefit from their inclusion. Secondly, a victory by Australian Aborigines or Aotearoa Maori over a side like England would cause huge damage to the game?s already fragile credibility. These two sides would be virtual ?B-sides? for their respective nations, and their victory over another nation?s first choice side would further highlight the lack of competitiveness in the international game.

Whilst both sides make valid arguments, I think one important factor is being ignored. It?s all well and good for Arthur Beetson to bemoan the lack of Aboriginal representation in 2008?s ?celebration of rugby league?, but what steps have been made in recent years to establish the side as a potential participant? How many internationals has Australian Aborigines played in the past few years? If Arthur Beetson is serious in his desire for his people to be represented at an international level, why aren?t they out doing the hard yards themselves? There have been ample opportunities in recent years to organise friendlies against touring nations such as the United States, yet such steps are not being made.

Secondly, the decision to exclude these two ?nations? was made when the World Cup was announced. Why then are the two parties suddenly realising that they?ve missed the boat? Qualification has already begun in Europe, and the Pacific and Atlantic qualifiers are scheduled to begin before the year is out. Even if the RLIF were to reverse their decision and allow the two sides to attempt qualification ? where would they fit? Which side would be told their place in the World Cup was no longer valid?

Personally, I don?t think either side has a legitimate claim for inclusion in the World Cup. I?ve no problem with them playing regular internationals, but the inclusion of Australia B and New Zealand B would only cheapen a tournament that is already struggling for credibility. If Aboriginal Australia needs representation at the celebration of rugby league ? let them play a curtain raiser or two. Don?t deprive a legitimate national side their chance to appear on the World Stage just for the sake of political correctness.

Australian Aboriginals will be represented at the 2008 World Cup in the form of players like Matt Bowen and Jonathan Thurston playing for Australia, and you know there'll be plenty of Maori players in the New Zealand squad - they don?t need special treatment.