Will the decision by Auckland school principals to stop the live broadcast of 1st XV rugby matches lead to a wider conversation about the commercialisation of school sport?

When Kelston Boys’ High School beat St Peter’s College in the nail-biting top-tier final of the Auckland secondary schools’ rugby tournament back in August, the match was broadcast live on Sky Sport.

But when this fixture happens next year, things will be a bit different.

That’s because last week, a group of Auckland secondary school principals announced that the live broadcast of 1st XV matches would stop.

It’s a decision that’s been welcomed by Cricket Players’ Association chief executive, and former secondary school teacher, Heath Mills.

He says a number of players’ associations, including his own, have voiced concerns about youth sport being broadcast on television.

“I think the commercialisation of youth sport and school sport is the biggest concern we have,” he tells The Detail.

“And of course, putting competitions and matches and series at youth-level and school-level on TV just exacerbates that issue.”

Mills says players’ associations across sporting codes are dealing first-hand with “the kids who make it when they get out of school”.

“That is a very, very small percentage of those who are trying who actually get to the professional ranks. A lot of the time they’re broken – not all – but they’re coming out of environments where there’s a lot of pressure from a really young age.”

Mills says some young players are being exposed to criticism and abuse on social media.

“They’ve often got issues from the pressure they’ve been put under at really young age; they struggle with their identity, because they’ve been known as ‘Rob the athlete’ or ‘Heath the cricket player’ forever and a day and that’s how they get their identity,” he says.

“You have young kids coming through who are almost tired of sport, they’ve been worked very hard whilst they’re at school and in some of the environments, they see it as the only career option.

“When it’s the only career option and all they’ve been built up [as] by family members and everyone else in their lives, that’s a real problem when they get into the professional ranks and actually realise it’s going to be very hard to get a contract and certainly one of value that’s going to sustain [them] for the rest of [their] career.”

But Newshub sports reporter Ollie Ritchie questions whether the televising of school sport is really such a problem.

“I would love to see the evidence of this being a bad idea and why it’s a bad idea,” he says. 

“From what I understand, and it’s a very small sample size, some people I’ve spoken to who have kids who play 1st XV level rugby, they love their 15 minutes of fame and for the really good ones it exposes them to potential scouts for Super Rugby.

“But at the same time, if you’re good enough you’re going to get picked up anyway, you’re going to be spotted. I’m yet to hear someone come out and say, ‘Yeah, my son suffered big time from this happening’.”

Ritchie played in his high school’s 1st XV in the early 2010s, when school sport was just beginning to be broadcast on television.

“It was like we were rockstars … during the week, at training, we had Sky cameras come in and they would film training and they’d interview the captain and film bits of us around the school,” Ritchie says.

While it was “weird” having cameras around them, Ritchie says it was “kind of cool, because it was like, this must be what it’s like for the All Blacks”.

“You’re playing on Sky Sport to a big audience, you’ve got actual commentators commentating you, it feels more professional than just high school rugby, which a lot of people will never get to experience,” Ritchie says.

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