Black is a key identifying feature of the New Zealand sportsmen. In any international sporting event, people around the world know an athlete wearing black is a New Zealander.

New Zealand has adopted black as the nation’s corporate colour. Even Air New Zealand is changing its aircraft colours from blue to black. The country’s sporting flag has a black background and is more recognizable as representing New Zealand than the official flag that is too close to Australia’s to be distinctive.  Most non-New Zealanders wouldn’t be able to recognize the national flag but the silver fern on the black background stands out as New Zealand’s flag.Technically, black is not a color, rather, it is un-manifested light, but it does give power to other colors. “Black is like a broken vessel, which is deprived of the capacity to contain anything.” said Leonardo da Vinci. People who are drawn to black like to project an air of mystery and they value prestige. Black lovers tend to be dignified, serious and sexy and regard themselves superior to others.

Black projects power. Wearing black puts Kiwi sportsmen into a winning state of mind.


On July 29 1887, the NZ Amateur Athletic Association was created and athletes were able to compete for New Zealand titles and call themselves national champions. The Association’s first national event was the 250 yards amateur championship at the Hawke’s Bay athletic club’s final meet of 1887. The winner was awarded with a large, silver championship trophy and a black cap. Within a few years, wearing the black cap marked you a New Zealand champion and it quickly became a real honour to wear one.

Early NZ Black Cap

When the New Zealand Rugby Football Union was formed in 1892, Tom Ellison, author of the first rugby coaching manual published in 1902, recommended to the Rugby Union that black be used as the colour for New Zealand’s national jersey. His suggestion passed unanimously. Black soon caught on with other sporting bodies because of the national rugby side’s decision to follow the lead of New Zealand athletics.


In 1888, a national rugby team embarked on a tour through New Zealand, Australia, the United Kingdom and Ireland. On their first tour match against Hawke’s Bay in Napier on June 23 1888, the team wore black with the silver fern on their chests and the black playing kit remained for the rest of the tour. “Their costume was all black,” said a correspondent for the Press in Melbourne during the tour, “the only relief to its funeral aspect being a silver fern leaf on the breast.”

NZ Rugby Team 1905

Ron Palenski, chief executive of the New Zealand Sports Hall of Fame, said the colour probably had practical uses for the teams, rather than any cultural significance at the time. “What you’ve got to remember is, England wore white, Scotland wore blue, Ireland green and Wales wore scarlet, so it made a lot of sense to wear black because they weren’t going to clash with any of those teams.” Stephen Berg, director of the New Zealand Rugby Museum in Palmerston North, suggests, “It was easier to get than other colours at the time and the silver fern was important. There is an old Maori proverb about the fern, and we think that may have been important for the New Zealand Natives team. Black shows that colour up really well.”

Adopting black for sporting costumes probably comes down to the fact, black is a hard wearing colour and doesn’t require maintenance and also hides mud and other blemishes better than any other colour.


Today, the country’s sporting teams feature black in their names:

All Blacks rugby team,

Black Caps, cricket team,

Tall Blacks, hockey team,

Wheel Blacks, wheelchair rugby team,

Ice Blacks, ice hockey team,

Black Sticks, hockey team,

Black Sox, softball team,

Black Ferns, women’s rugby team,

Black Fins, surf lifesaving team.

New Zealand’s yacht NZL32 was named “Black Magic”. It went on to win the America’s Cup in 1995, leaving the American defender, Young America in its “blackwash” as it became known. It is now the centerpiece at the Peter Blake wing of the Maritime Museum in Auckland.

Black Magic

New Zealand sportsmen have excelled in other water based sports while wearing black. As far back as 1920, rower Darcy Hadfield won a bronze medal at the Antwerp Olympics. By the end of the 2016 Rio games New Zealand rowers in their black gear had won a total of 11 gold, 3 silver and 10 bronze medals.


When it came to naming the national badminton team, New Zealand badminton considered the name ‘Black Cocks’ as it seemed the obvious choice. However, when the team looked around for company sponsorship, they were immediately approached by a condom manufacturer. This got the sports people worried. Although the name is not yet official, it is still the popular name among the public who love to yell out “come on Black Cocks!” It has a certain appeal to many of the team’s supporters.

Many of the top badminton players are happy with the name, so it might still become official. The main sticking point is the fact there are dark skinned players involved in New Zealand badminton!

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Ceidrik Heward

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