Hockey forges lifelong connections with Asia

After twelve years, Peter Miskimmin has stepped down as Sport New Zealand’s CEO. We caught up with Miskimmin, an Asia New Zealand Foundation honorary adviser, to reflect on how sport and the continent of Asia has shaped his personal and professional life.
Peter Miskimmin looking to relieve an opposition hockey player of the ball

Miskimmin was capped 150 times and represented New Zealand at hockey at both the Los Angeles Olympic Games in 1984 and the 1992 Barcelona Olympics (photo: NZ Olympic Committee)

"Language of Sport is universal, irrespective of which country you're in, religion different backgrounds.

"Sport, in my case hockey, was the common denominator. It’s only on reflection now that I realise it has shaped me, the way I think, the way I approach life now. Sport can break down barriers."

Miskimmin's first time overseas was to represent New Zealand playing field hockey at a tournament in rural Pakistan when he was 18 years old.

His trip to Pakistan was an eye-opening experience that sparked his curiosity about Asia and, unknown to him at the time, set him on a path that was to influence his life and career for many years to come.

"It was the most dramatic trip I had ever been on. Coming from a comfortable life in New Zealand, playing in rural Pakistan was something else."

Not only was the environment different, the popularity of hockey was on another level.

"We were playing in front of 60,000-70,000 people. For a young 18 year old, it was very intimidating. The whole trip left a huge mark on me."

This would be the first of many trips to Asia, to play hockey, as part of his OE and then as a representative of the New Zealand government.

Each trip Peter's curiosity to learn more was heightened, his confidence grew and his network of friends and connections expanded, many of which he maintains to this day.

Peter talking to a group of young hockey player who are sitting on turf with their hockey sticks

Miskimmin coaching Hutt International Boys's School hockey team in Malaysia in 2009 (photo: Hutt International Boys' School)

Years on, these friendships would become valuable connections for a group of students from Hutt International Boys' School. The school's philosophy is to prepare New Zealand's future leaders by exposing them to a wide range of culture at an early age. While Peter’s sons were attending the school, a hockey trip to Australia was mooted.

"I said, if we go to Australia, we might as well go to Auckland, let’s go to Malaysia. I leaned in on all of the connections I had made over my hockey-playing days."

What resulted was a trip travelling up the Malaysian Peninsula, visiting the biggest mosque in the world, street markets, tasting all variety of food and playing hockey along the way.

Two years later, another trip was organised, this time to Beijing, following the Olympic Games that had recently been held there.

"It was about being able to give the next generation the opportunity of understanding a different culture, embracing it in a different way. Not from afar but up front."

Peter's vision was to go beyond the comfortable and in doing so help equip students for the world we live in today – to develop their worldliness and their willingness to accept diversity and inclusion, to become curious.

Miskimmin providing coaching advice to a hockey player

Miskimmin: "Language of Sport is universal, irrespective of which country you're in, religion different backgrounds" (photo: Hockey NZ)

In 2009, he got another opportunity to take a team to Asia, this time as coach of the New Zealand Junior Men’s Hockey team after they qualified for the Junior World Championships.

Remembering the impact his first trip to Pakistan had on himself and his teammates, Miskimmin invested time in preparing the young squad for the experience, both on and off the turf.

"You want the players to make sure they perform on the pitch, but if you prepare them [for the experience] off the pitch, they are in a better mindset to do that."

It would be an understatement to say the team did well. Ranked 12th going into the tournament, they just missed the finals, finishing in 4th place. A further success marker is that many of the team members went on to become Black Sticks players, building their hockey careers in Asia and going on to represent New Zealand at Olympic Games.

Peter and some hockey players at Stadium Hok Nasional in Malaysia

When he took students from Hutt International Boys' School to Malaysia in 2009, Miskimmin (far left) made sure the team got to experience what life was like in the country beyond the hockey turf (photo: Hutt International Boys' School)

Just prior to the Junior World’s, Peter was appointed CEO of Sport NZ, New Zealand’s crown agency responsible for promoting and supporting quality experiences in play, recreation and sport. Again Miskimmin’s of knowledge and connections with Asia would prove invaluable.

"We want all New Zealanders to reap the benefits of being physically active, from physical and mental health, education, to growing communities, community resilience to national pride; all of those come from being physically active."

Over the past twelve years, New Zealand’s ethnic makeup has become more diverse, with those identifying as Asian a rapidly growing group.

Already New Zealand's sport scene is benefitting from this, with growth in badminton, table tennis, basketball and volleyball. Other sports will grow in prominence as New Zealand further embraces trends from Asia.

Sport NZ ‘s role is to address communities that are missing out, and unfortunately many of those are from Asian communities.

"The kiwi diet of rugby league, rugby, netball and cricket is not what they culturally connect to."

Following the Christchurch Mosque attack, two pilot programmes were established to work with the Muslim community to help identify what was appropriate, welcoming and safe to help encourage young Muslims into sport, especially young women.

Miskimmin’s role also saw him accompany New Zealand government delegations to Asia.

"Sport is recognised as a valuable resource when brokering connections across governments."

Miskimmin was part of the 2017 delegation that oversaw the signing of Japanese – New Zealand Sports Accord, its purpose to increase the sharing of knowledge across the two countries.

A second initiative with Japan was the Host City programme for Tokyo 2020 Games. Although that this has not played out as expected, with Covid-19 restricting travel, these agreements are part of the Games legacy plan.

The intention is long-term connection between cities across Japan with national sports bodies globally.

Miskimmin is excited by the number of New Zealand sports (14) that have participated in this initiative and the impact it will have on coaches and athletes in experiencing deeper connections with the Japanese hospitality, culture and people.

While it’s been a busy, at times high pressure, role, Miskimmin says he’s relished the last 12 years as head of Sport NZ.

"As a sports lover, it’s been an absolute privilege to be in a career that is about sport and work for an organisation that has the ability to impact and influence so many people."

Header image: Hutt International Boys' School