For a country with few people, why is NZ so strong at sport? – Part 1

New Zealand is a small country with a population of only 4 million people. Considering the small population, it produces a disproportionately high number of individual sports for men and women, plus world class sports sides. What is it about this country at the bottom of the world that enables it to compete with much larger countries at the international level.

The Island itself consists of two major landmasses, the North Island and the South Island. Being located 1500 kilometers to the east of Australia, it is one of the most remotely located countries in the world.

The Map of New Zealand showing the two major land masses

The original Maori population were the only settlers on the Island until it received British sovereignty in 1841 with it becoming a dominion in 1907. The majority of the 4.7 million population come from European descent, and New Zealand received full independent status in 1931 which was accepted by the New Zealand Parliament in 1947.

The migration of Europeans to New Zealand, mixed with the Maoris, resulted in a potent mix that competed well in the British traditional sports of rugby and cricket. The British brought the knowledge to the Maoris who were athletic and had a great natural ability. This produced a great mix, and from this point the standard of sport into this “new country” was set to evolve.

The country did not have to wait long for success as rugby tours to Australia and the British Isles in the late 1880’s and early 1900’s proved to be the winning ones. From the start, sport gave the New Zealanders a real sense of identity. From this time, the country has not looked back. It is well known that the country’s national rugby side the All Blacks is the best side in the world, but it would be wrong to claim that Rugby Union is the only sport that New Zealand excels in.

It is also interesting to look at the type of the settlers that was migrating to New Zealand.

All Blacks at Crystal Palace before defeating England in 1905

The main European settlers came into the country as courtesy of the New Zealand Company. This was set up to encourage immigration, and settlers were attracted by the promise of cheap land and rich soils.

The original settlers were people from the rural areas of the United Kingdom. These people who were used to working the land were physically strong. New Zealand has a favourable climate for producing food. The settlers were soon successfully growing crops and raising the livestock. This was producing a naturally healthy and strong population.

There were further bursts of immigration, most noticeably miners and ex-soldiers, but all these migrants had one thing in common – they were strong practicable people. No one can claim that the UK was suffering a brain drain in populating New Zealand, but these people were strong and healthy with a good work ethic. This cultural mix of people was soon branching into other sports, as well as still competing with the very best at both the rugby union and cricket pitches.

About the Author