Page 1: Biography
Cross, Cecil Lancelot Stewart
Basketball player, sports administrator and broadcaster
This biography, written by Ron Palenski, was first published in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography in 2000.
Lance Cross was born in Dunedin on 12 November 1912 to Elizabeth Stewart and her husband, Cecil Thomas Cross, a fireman. Named John (and then, 12 days later, Cecil) Lancelot Stewart Cross, he was educated at Douglas School near Waimate and then Timaru Boys’ High School from 1925 to 1930. Cross was fond of recalling a three-mile race at the school in the late 1920s. Jack Lovelock (later the mile and 1,500 metres world record-holder) won and he came third.
In 1931 Cross began working for the YMCA, and by 1933 was the YMCA’s physical education director. He was briefly enrolled as an extramural student at Canterbury College in 1932. From 1936 to 1939 he was physical education specialist at Hamilton Technical School. In these roles he began his lifelong links with basketball. He represented New Zealand and was president of the New Zealand Men’s Basketball Association from its foundation in 1946 until 1971. He was also coach of the national team and he served as a vice president of the International Amateur Basketball Federation.
From 1939 he worked as a physical welfare officer with the Department of Internal Affairs, initially in Palmerston North, but later in Wellington. In this capacity he helped to lay down the principles of physical education in schools, inculcating in New Zealand youth the worth of star-jumps, press-ups and other forms of activity on wintry school mornings. During the Second World War he spent three years as a physical education and recreational training officer, first in the Air Training Corps and then in the Royal New Zealand Air Force. He served in New Zealand and the Pacific.
The next phase of his career, sports broadcasting, began in 1952 when he was appointed head of the sports service of the state-run broadcasting organisation. He held the position until 1978. The first major international sporting event on which he commentated was the British Empire and Commonwealth Games in Vancouver in 1954 (with Winston McCarthy, better known as ‘The Voice of Rugby’). He broadcast from each Empire (later British Commonwealth) Games and Olympic Games until his last, in Munich in 1972. Among the great sporting moments for which Cross was the commentator were Norman Read’s gold medal walk in Melbourne in 1956, the Olympic gold medals within an hour in 1960 to Peter Snell and Murray Halberg, and Snell’s 800 and 1,500 metres double in Tokyo in 1964.
As a consequence of his two-yearly trips to games abroad and his continuing involvement with basketball, Cross became that sport’s representative on the New Zealand Olympic and British Empire Games Association (later the New Zealand Olympic and Commonwealth Games Association), of which he was chairman from 1967 to 1981 and president from 1981 to 1989. He was also an Olympic team selector. He was on the New Zealand Amateur Athletic Association for four years, directed the national learn-to-swim campaign and served on sport-related government agencies.
Cross became the International Olympic Committee member in New Zealand in 1969. His election was not supported by the man he replaced, Sir Arthur Porritt, who wrote to the Irish peer, Lord Killanin, complaining that Cross was not a suitable person because he was a professional sports broadcaster and wore at games a blazer carrying the logo of New Zealand radio. Cross, because of his background, was appointed to the IOC’s television commission, which was in the early stages of reaping the benefits of television coverage rights to the Olympics, and he also became a member of the eligibility commission, which watered down the IOC’s previously strict adherence to amateurism.
Lance Cross was heavily involved in negotiations in Montreal in 1976 when African countries tried to have New Zealand banned from the games because of an All Black tour of South Africa taking place simultaneously. When the move failed, Cross having argued that rugby was not under the control of the games association or the New Zealand government, African, Asian and Caribbean countries withdrew their athletes. Cross had also been appointed by Killanin, the IOC president, to a three-man commission charged with negotiating China’s return to the Olympics; this was short-lived because the three could not agree among themselves.
In 1978 Cross was elected to the IOC’s top decision-making body, the executive board. On the retirement of Killanin in 1980, he declared his candidacy for the presidency of the IOC, but withdrew before the ballot and supported the eventual winner, Juan Antonio Samaranch of Spain. That was the year of the United States-led boycott of the Moscow Olympics because of the Soviet Union’s presence in Afghanistan, and Killanin expressed concern that some IOC members were backtracking from a previous strong commitment to the games being held in Moscow. New Zealand was mentioned, and Cross was accused by Killanin of ‘not being as active as he might’ amid suggestions that he was taking the New Zealand government’s line in opposing sending athletes to Moscow. Killanin later wrote that Cross assured him a decision whether to participate in the games was being left to each sport and, in the end, New Zealand was represented in Moscow by canoeing and modern pentathlon.
Cross was made a CBE in 1977 and was knighted in 1984. He had married Amy Taylor on 25 March 1940 at Hamilton, and they had had two daughters. He died on 13 May 1989 at Wellington, survived by his wife and children.