Reason: America's Cup is not anyone's cup

MARK REASON
Last updated 05:00 07/07/2013
Team New Zealand
Getty Images

Members of Team New Zealand are showered with confetti during the opening ceremony for the America's Cup in San Francisco.

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OPINION: It's an alluring thought: four and a half million New Zealanders all swaying to starboard in perfect, synchronised harmony, one nation all in the same boat.

Come on, urges Prime Minister John Key, let's support the Kiwis at the America's Cup, let's all keel over and join the "lean with us" campaign. But when you throw the jingoistic jetsam overboard, the questions remains - just who are we supporting and why?

It is easy to get behind the All Blacks at the Rugby World Cup or the All Whites at football's World Cup. It is our lot against their lot. It is New Zealand against the planet. We even go to the trouble of identifying teams with different coloured shirts so that we know who we are cheering for - the All Blacks against Les Bleus, or the All Whites against the Azzurri.

It may even have been like that once upon a time in the America's Cup. Back in 1995, a country got behind Peter Blake's challenge.

It was little New Zealand against supersize America.

Blake had his lucky red socks, America wore the black hat.

The bad old US of A even had a villain from central casting.

Dennis Conner seemed to epitomise America's superiority complex. His boats were all called Stars and Stripes, and he was dubbed "Mister America's Cup". And he liked winning.

Really liked winning.

So the country leaned in behind Blake and his boat, Black Magic. And it felt like one-up for the little guy when Blake trounced the big American bully.

But was it really that way?

Wasn't it a New Zealand banker called Michael Fay who had previously turned a yacht race into a "big boat challenge" with all his money? And did most Americans really give a damn anyway? That's the trouble with the America's Cup - it is named for a nation that doesn't really give a damn. When the contest was first devised, the winning crew donated the trophy to the New York Yacht Club, under the condition that it be held in trust as a challenge trophy to "promote friendly competition among nations".

So where did all these nations go to? In the 160-year history of the race, it has only ever been won by America (a lot), Australia, New Zealand and, rather absurdly for a land-locked country, Switzerland. Yes, the Rugby World Cup also only has four winners to date, but it has only been going 25 years.

The America's Cup is no longer a competition among nations.

The defenders call themselves Oracle, Team USA, but they are not Team USA at all. The team are headed by Russell Coutts, one of the finest New Zealand sailors of all time.

And Coutts has brought on board seven other Kiwis, seven Australians, two Dutchmen, a Brit, a West Indian, an Italian, a Canadian, a Frenchman and a sailor who claims to be Irish-Australian-New Zealand. Oh, and there are a couple of Yanks.

No wonder America is not interested. Who wants to shout for a billionaire who has recruited a bunch of mercenaries and who have "destroyed", "sabotaged" or "screwed up" the America's Cup, according to your choice of headline. Some 4000 of the natives of San Francisco are so restless that they have signed a petition demanding that Larry Ellison underwrites the city's losses if his big show (off) ends up losing money.

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Last weekend I was in Melbourne. Lions' supporters painted this sports-mad city red, a city that is all about the fans.

There are stadia everywhere.

We toured the Melbourne Cricket Ground and, bit by bit, our aged tour guide revealed a little more of himself under questioning. It turned out that this volunteer was a man called John Lord, the winner of four grand finals back in the early 1960s. That is Melbourne, a sports city of the people, for the people and by the people. But just who is the America's Cup of, for or by? It doesn't really have a lot to do with you and me.

Neeraj Lala tells us: "It would be great to see Kiwis everywhere supporting Grant Dalton and the team. We have created the ‘lean with us' campaign to make it easy for Kiwis to get on board and help make the boat go faster.

"The campaign's overall aim is to bring New Zealand together."

Horsefeathers. Mr Lala-land is the marketing director of Toyota.

The campaign is designed to bring New Zealanders together in a Japanese car, to promote an Arab airline, and to sell a superstore. We are being sold a very expensive pup.

There is one good reason, and only one reason, for getting behind Team NZ. Team boss Grant Dalton said: "We stand for nationality rule and we stand for real budget numbers that real people can raise."

In other words, if Team NZ win, we might just get a proper race next time. That may just be the one thing about this year's America's Cup that is worth New Zealand having a tilt at.

- Sunday Star Times

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