At our café rendezvous in Rangiora, George Berry checks the time as he orders coffee and mentions that he has another meeting coming up after our interview. Dressed in denim shorts and T-shirt, the casual attire reinforces a sense that here is a man of plain purpose, who thrives on being busy and getting things done. We find a table as he begins to explain why he thinks Canterbury’s sportspeople need a place to share the stories they’ve always wanted to tell, not just the usual commentary on wins and losses. In fact, regional sports news of any kind is increasingly hard to find in today’s world of syndicated coverage.
‘Mainstream media today is based on volume, so the story that’s important to 100,000 people will win out over a story that’s important to 1000 people,’ he says. ‘I understand the need to prioritise, but from a commercial and community perspective, it’s important that local stories still get told.’
At the interview, we are joined by Andrew Currie who is just as passionate as George about wanting to shake up how local sport is covered. He and George, who share a background in sports media and communication, are actively working to change the status quo via their new regional sports site, WeAreCanterbury.co.nz. It is a platform they have created not just for results and reports, but also as a means of getting to know Canterbury’s sports high performers.
In part, their venture was sparked by overtures from regional sports chief executives, concerned over not getting enough coverage. The pair devoted months to planning, ahead of the launch of WeAreCanterbury in December 2018. The venture is supported by Mainland Football, Canterbury Hockey, Canterbury RFU, Canterbury Cricket, Canterbury Basketball and Canterbury Rams, with Sport Canterbury on board as a partner. Following the launch, Touch Canterbury also came on board as a supporter.
‘Through analysing sports media trends around the world, I realised there was this appetite for athlete-driven content,’ George says. ‘We then went and had conversations with some of our local athletes and discovered they would love to be able to tell their own stories too.’
For too long, they say, we have been locked into a media culture of glorifying winners and dismissing losers with so much else getting overlooked as a result. As Andrew notes, there is even a nickname for second place and it’s called ‘first loser’ – ‘That can’t be good for anyone’s mental health.’
WeAreCanterbury is delving deeper and unearthing some home truths that will surely resonate with anyone interested in regional sport and sports culture. Just one example of this on their website is Rosa Flanagan’s story, The Painful Realisation, in which she describes how her relentless push to work as hard as possible to further her athletics career led to delayed menstruation and serious injury. It is a powerful account that simultaneously inspires empathy for what Rosa went through and a hope that others may learn from
‘I’ve known Rosa for a while now and I’m not sure she would have been able to tell that story as a TV news story and yet it’s such an important story to get out to other young women,’ George says. ‘The difference with our approach is that we’re not turning up with a preconceived idea of what the story should be – we’re asking athletes to tell us what they’d like to share.’
One of WeAreCanterbury’s contributors is Tom Walsh, South Canterbury’s world-leading shot put champ. On the site, we learn that Tom was diagnosed with dyslexia while at primary school and one click takes you through to WeAreCanterbury’s Instagram where Tom shares his experiences with another young Kiwi living with dyslexia. It’s another example of a story that gets behind the results and closer to the man himself.
Other high profile contributors include Jane Watson (netball), Anton Cooper (cross country mountain bike) and Henry Nicholls (cricket). To date, nine foundation contributors have signed to be part of WeAreCanterbury, all Canterbury-born and involved in sport at the international level.
Finding out what they want to contribute has been a lot of fun for George and Andrew, such as discovering the six favourite places where Anton Cooper likes to go mountain biking.
‘That was such a perfectly timed story for the summer!’ George says. ‘We love working with people like Anton, helping them to write stories in their [own] words … Jason Ryan told us another great story recently, about the leap of faith he took when he accepted his first four-month contract in the Crusaders’ Assistant Forwards Coach role even though he was married with two kids and a mortgage.’
Andrew observes how just about everyone has had some struggle or other in their lives and he mentions Roly Crichton’s account called I Owe My Life to Swimming. It’s Roly’s story of how he wound up in a wheelchair from age 17 and how swimming helped him come to terms with knowing he’d never walk again. The whole experience instilled a mental toughness that paved the way to Roly’s success as a swim coach, best known for coaching New Zealand’s most successful Paralympian Sophie Pascoe.
These sorts of stories put sport in perspective, as part of a shared human experience that sometimes requires courage in the face of adversity. Beneath that is a determination to contribute and achieve something bigger than the mundane.
George and Andrew have had exceptional careers of their own. George grew up in North Canterbury playing representative basketball and club rugby. His sports journalism career started with MediaWorks Radio followed by three years with TVNZ, with one of the first major events he covered being the ASB Classic. His flair for covering sport paved the way to international assignments that culminated in him moving to the UK for a time to produce content for various international brands and news outlets.
‘I came back for the Rugby World Cup in 2011 and for my wedding to Olivia at the start of 2012; we now have two boys, Jack, five and Harry, two.’
George has worked as a media manager for New Zealand Rugby League, Paralympics New Zealand and the Audi Quattro Winter Games and credits his success over the years to his ability to form relationships – ‘that really is key’.
Andrew originally hails from South Canterbury, growing up in a sports-mad family. He’s barely missed an Olympics or Commonwealth Games since Sydney 2000, having forged a successful career in television production. He also has a talent for media communications and marketing and has previously put these skills to use for Fish & Game New Zealand (South Island) and Mainland Football.
He’s married to fellow journalist Jendy Harper. Their daughter Blair played for New Zealand in the FIFA Under-17 Women’s World Cup in Uruguay, the first Kiwi team ever to progress to the event’s semi-finals; their two sons Henry and Patric are both keen rugby players.
‘Sport was an important part both of my upbringing and my kids’ upbringing,’ Andrew says. ‘It’s how we build friendships and relationships. Sport is important for so many things: it creates a sense of belonging and community.’
‘WeAreCanterbury’ is poised to further strengthen these bonds in 2019 and beyond.
We are excited to share with you that as of June/July 2019 latitude will be partnering with WeAreCanterbury to bring you a regional sporting story every issue! For more information, visit wearecanterbury.co.nz
WORDS Kim Newth