A 1901 report in the Māori language newspaper He Kupu Whakamarama about the success of Māori playing polo on the East Coast made observations about what sports Māori were interested in: ‘We have seen Māori are keen on athletics particularly racing and jumping, [rugby] football, tennis and golf. Cricket is the game which has not yet managed to attract Māori interest.’1
Formation of Māori teams
Sometimes specifically Māori teams formed because Māori were living in communities separate from Pākehā. In other cases, Māori teams were formed because Māori were not permitted to play in local European teams. For example, Māori cyclists, while allowed to ride alongside Pākehā in the North Island at the turn of the 20th century, were required to race in separate competitions in the South Island. National Māori teams were also formed to travel overseas and often combined sports with cultural entertainment.
A few Māori cricketers continued to play at provincial levels. Wiri Aurunui Baker played for Wellington, scoring 1,835 runs at an average of 31.63 between 1911 and 1929, and also played for New Zealand against New South Wales. His brother George also played for Wellington in the early 1920s. In 1923 a Māori cricket club was formed in Wellington.
Māori have had a long and successful association with golf. Kurupō Tāreha of Ngāti Kahungunu won the New Zealand Amateur Championship in 1903. The New Zealand Māori Golf Association was set up in 1932, with Tāreha as its patron. A 16-year-old Walter Godfrey won the national amateur championship in 1958. The following year he refused to make himself available for a New Zealand team to a Commonwealth tournament in South Africa due to its apartheid policies. In 1967 he and fellow New Zealander Bob Charles were runners up behind US players Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer at the Golf World Cup.
In 1900, at a meeting at Te Aute College it was noted that, although it was generally a sport of the upper-class Pākehā, Māori were beginning to play tennis. Many marae built grass courts and inter-marae tennis competitions became common. The New Zealand Māori Lawn Tennis Association (which later became the Aotearoa Māori Tennis Association) was formed in 1926. Founding members included Māori leaders Āpirana Ngata, Taipōrutu Mitchell and Pei Te Hurinui Jones.
Te Rangi Hīroa (Peter Buck), later a doctor and anthropologist, was the New Zealand amateur long-jump champion in 1900 and 1903.
Rugby continued to be a popular game for Māori in the 20th century. In 1910 the first official Māori rugby team toured Australia. In 1919 the issue of sporting contacts with South Africa arose and affected New Zealand rugby for generations. Because of South Africa’s policy of racial segregation, two members of a New Zealand inter-services team – Ranji Wilson (of West Indian descent) and Parekura Tureia (Ngāti Porou) – were not allowed to play in South Africa. In 1928 rugby great George Nēpia (Ngāti Porou) was left out of the All Blacks tour to South Africa.
Many Māori converted from rugby union to rugby league – at that time rugby union was an amateur game, while rugby league was professional, and so making a living playing sport had its attractions. In 1908 a Māori rugby league team toured Australia. This was followed up by another tour to Australia in 1909 and one to Great Britain in 1910. An international game between the New Zealand Māori team and Great Britain was played in 1910.