Rene Gonzalez Araya: The round ball’s call in Frodo country


OPINION: The intrusion of football into Kiwi culture is undeniable.

I’m not talking about a few guys kicking it around just for fun, it’s competitive stuff and local parents must be aware of it.

It’d be insulting for you guys just to be called a rugby country – although you are certainly the best example of that sport in the world.

Despite being the current rugby world champs, there are another few achievements to add to your sporting pedigree.

In golf, Kiwi-Korean Lydia Ko is the world number one. She became leader of the ranking at 17 and now, two years later, she’s keeping hold of the ranking.

On another surface, the superstar of freeride mountain biking, Kelly McGarry – who died last February while riding the Fernhill loop track – put New Zealand on the honour roll when he backflipped a 72-foot canyon gap in the Red Bull Rampage 2013 to get the best trick award.

Why am I taking such a long time to introduce this?

Because maybe you don’t realise how successful you are in different disciplines.

And I don’t want to go deeper into the snow, water, mountain or other sports where Kiwis have put the NZ flag on top, because what is ringing now strongly in Queenstown is football, and you know it.

This sport colonisation in your country is also happening to many others, who have denied for years the essence of what we call in South America ‘The Sport King’.

I don’t have any big explanation other than this: your boys and girls are growing up in Messi and Ronaldo’s era.

Despite the massive English and Latin migration, which started more than 15 years ago to this promised land, it was not until the current decade that football made its official landing in Frodo’s country.

The diversity of NZ residents makes the Queenstown local league interesting and watchable.

If you watch matches any weekend you will easily enjoy play by those who try and mimic the Premier League, Copa America, La Liga, or Brasileirao – keeping things in proportion, of course.

Football’s also in schools. In on the sports fields, kids want to be part of the local team and football summer school is a new must for youngsters.

The non-existent NZ football history has started to be written.

(Ed: Ahem, the All Whites qualified for the World Cup in 1982 and 2014.)

Many coaches are using the potential of hard-working young local players – who dream, think about and live football every day – to make them the first world-successful generation of Kiwis in the 11-a-side game.

Coach Jamie Whitmarsh has brought all the English mystique and hard work to mentoring Queenstown Rovers.

He’s pushing some local young stars to national teams, like Oliver Ceci in the last under-17 World Cup, or Andy Moberley in Samoa’s national team.

Some names to remember for the future are Rian Norton, Matthew Cordelle and Oliver Dowling. These youngsters could become All Whites.

Let’s hope to see you guys in Qatar in 2022 or maybe the World Cup after that.

Who knows, maybe the recognition of Zealandia as the seventh geological continent could accelerate your arrival to the Fifa World Cup.

If Zealandia becomes official there will be big political and economic changes. Imagine having to play just New Caledonia to secure a World Cup spot.

In the meantime, keep working and enjoying the sport and nature will take its course.

Rene Gonzalez Araya is a former Chilean sports journalist who has lived in Queenstown for three years