Why they hate Quade
Quade Cooper's family are part of the great modern migration which Hau'ofa's most famous work celebrates: a decade ago they left Tokoroa, the depressed timber town in the south Waikato region of Te Ika a Maui, and settled in Queensland. Cooper’s father had lost his job after one of Tokoroa’s dwindling number of mills had closed, and he could see no future in New Zealand.
In Brisbane the young Cooper quickly became known as an uncommonly promising rugby player. Before he was twenty Cooper was playing for the Wallabies, and over the last couple of years he has become the side's star player.
Over the last few weeks, though, Quade Cooper's fame has turned, in New Zealand at least, to notoriety. From the time he stepped off the plane with the rest of Australia's World Cup Rugby Squad, Cooper has been the target of a stream of condemnation, mockery, and threats. Fans, sports commentators and pundits, and the coach of the All Blacks have all joined in the chorus of abuse. Facebook pages with names like I Hate Quade Cooper, Quade Cooper Traitor Disgrace and Kill Quade Cooper have appeared, unflattering photoshopped images of Cooper have been widely circulated, and a talkback host on the popular Radio Sport station has encouraged listeners to stalk and harrass Cooper as he moves through New Zealand with the Wallabies squad.
Instead of distancing themselves from the abuse of Cooper, New Zealand's rugby and media establishments have suggested that the young man deserves what he is getting. During a typically rambling, graceless press conference last weekend, Graham Henry said that Cooper had "brought a wee bit" of abuse on himself, and claimed that the player did not deserve to be respected by his opponents or by the New Zealand public. Henry's comments were reported reverently by the New Zealand media, which also mocked Cooper when he complained about 'getting it from all angles' during his time in this country. How can we explain the extraordinary outpouring of hatred against Quade Cooper in recent weeks? The Quade-haters typically explain their feelings by citing Cooper's New Zealand birth, his flamboyantly combative sporting persona, and the series of on-field clashes he has had with All Blacks captain Richie McCaw.
These excuses do not stand up to scrutiny.
Cooper may have been born in New Zealand, but he has lived in Australia since he was thirteen. It is curious that the Kiwis who label him a 'traitor' do not throw the same label at Wallabies coach Robbie Deans, who was born in this country, grew up here, played his rugby for Canterbury and the All Blacks, and then decided, after being passed over for the All Blacks coaching job in 2007, to cross the Tasman. Despite his much deeper ties with New Zealand and the blatant self-interest behind his defection to Australia, Deans remains a very popular figure in this country.
Cooper is a competitive player who likes to tease his opponents on and off the field. He has used a twitter account to celebrate Aussie victories and hit back at his critics after defeats. Sometimes Cooper seems intent on winding up All Blacks players and supporters. He has questioned the abilities of several All Blacks players, and he seems to enjoy talking while the New Zealand national anthem is being played before games.
But Cooper is hardly the first Aussie sportsman to have a cocky attitude. Many of Cooper's predecessors in the Wallabies have been admired for their cockiness. Back in the 1980s and early nineties David Campese regularly teased his opposite number John Kirwan and other All Blacks in the lead up to big trans-Tasman tests. But 'Campo' was celebrated as a 'character' who added to the colour of the game, not subjected to hate campaigns.
Cooper's clashes with Richie McCaw have been widely-publicised, but they have not gotten him into serious trouble with rugby administrators. After the final of the Tri-series competition in August Cooper was accused of maliciously kneeing McCaw in the head, but a disciplinary panel decided that his action was probably not deliberate. Many other players have committed far more egregious offences in recent years than Cooper. Quade Cooper is hated not for any legitimate reason, but because he unsettles the categories and assumptions beloved of many Pakeha rugby fans.
The All Blacks were one of the earlier integrated institutions in New Zealand, but traditionally there was an ethnic division of power within the team. For decades the All Blacks were nearly always captained by Pakeha. Maori were a loyal minority, except when the team toured South Africa, when they were dispensed with altogether. The All Blacks were often cited by politicians as a reflection of the country's supposed racial harmony, and many Pakeha internalised this notion.
In recent decades the growing diversity of New Zealand society, the increased power of Maori, and the professionalisation of rugby have all led to major changes in the All Blacks. Polynesians have sometimes been a majority in the team, the lure of foreign money has given players more power and made a number of them turn their backs on All Blacks careers, and repeated World Cup failures have reduced the mana of the team.
As observers like Chris Laidlaw have noted, the unease which many Kiwi rugby fans feel about the future of their game and team mirrors the uncertainty they feel about the economic and political future of their nation in the twenty-first century.
Amidst all the uncertainty of today's rugby world, Richie McCaw has come to seem, to many fans, a throwback to the glorious and safe days of the 1950s and '60s, when the All Blacks were consistently the best team in the world, and players never worried about contracts or sponsorship deals or their media image. With his rock jaw, old-fashioned haircut and sparse, homespun vocabulary, McCaw recalls heroes of yesteryear like Pinetree Meads and Brian Lochore. McCaw inspires extraordinary reverence amongst Kiwi rugby fans, and his team's quest for this year's World Cup has been portrayed, in the media and on fans' discussion fora, as a sort of effort at redemption, an attempt to revive a lost golden age.
McCaw is less popular outside New Zealand. Many overseas fans see him as a dirty player, who habitually lies on the wrong sides of rucks, daring referees to penalise him, and who has a penchant for throwing punches from the safety of the bottom of a maul.
New Zealand journalist Chris Rattue, who has a habit of dissenting from orthodox rugby opinion in this country, has suggested that the campaign against Quade Cooper began after the player 'got under the skins' of the All Blacks earlier this year. Cooper is, Rattue reckons, one of the 'very few people' who have been able to 'upset Richie McCaw'. Rattue believes that Cooper's flashy, unpredictable play and his willingness to take McCaw on physically and verbally rattled the All Blacks captain, who had become accustomed to intimidating his opponents.
Rattue suggests that McCaw began to give Cooper special attention, and that New Zealand rugby fans noticed his confrontations with the troublesome Aussie, took a hint, and began to direct their wrath towards Cooper.
Rattue's argument explains how Quade Cooper became a target for All Blacks supporters, but it does not explain the incredible intensity of the hatred for Cooper.
To explain the excesses of the campaign against Cooper we have to examine what he means to the Pakeha rugby fans who have been following, abusing, and threatening him. Cooper has expressed his pride in his ancestry, but he has no sentimental attachment to the All Blacks, and has no time for New Zealand nationalism.
Cooper is not even overly loyal to rugby: he seriously considered signing on with league team the Paramatta Eels last year, and was only kept in the rugby union fold by a one-year contract and the prospect of a World Cup. He has been tipped to defect to league next year.
As a brash, articulate young man proud to be Maori yet contemptuous of shibboleths of New Zealand identity like the All Blacks and the national anthem, Cooper confounds many assumptions still common amongst conservative Pakeha. He seems to them disloyal, self-centred, and aggressive. His confrontations with Richie McCaw, that embodiment of all that is pure in New Zealand society and rugby, are unforgivable.
At the same time that the media has been attacking Cooper, they have been busy praising Piri Weepu, the man who has become, in the absence of the injured Dan Carter, the most important part of the All Blacks backline.
A series of newspaper, radio and television profiles have discussed Weepu's continuing close connections with Wainuiomata, the poor outer Wellington neighbourhood where he was raised, and his decision to refuse the lure of foreign cash and remain in New Zealand and in the All Blacks. Weepu has been praised in rather patronising fashion for his 'loyalty' to his neighbourhood, his country, and his captain.
It is hard not see an implicit contrast being drawn between Cooper, the 'cheeky Maori' who turns out for a 'foreign' team, mocks the sacred symbols of New Zealand nationalism, and pursues his own interests, and the 'good Maori' Weepu, who knows his place and sticks to it.
But not everybody in this country hates Quade Cooper.
Epeli Hau'ofa celebrated emigrant Polynesians, and rejected charges that they were somehow self-centred or disloyal to the nation where they were born. Why, Hau’ofa indignantly asked, should people be criticised for refusing to be bound by lines on a map made by their colonisers? Why shouldn’t they take themselves and their culture wherever they want?
In much the same way, a number of Maori, including Tokoroan members of Cooper's Waikato iwi, have defended the player. Some have asked why Cooper should be expected to show loyalty to the New Zealand state which colonised his people, and to an All Blacks side which for long decades excluded Maori from leadership positions. In debates at the I Hate Quade Cooper Facebook page Cooper's defenders and detractors seem split along ethnic lines.
Ultimately, the hate campaign against Quade Cooper tells us more about the deformities of New Zealand society than it does about Cooper.