OPINION: What? Ngati Tuwharetoa want to charge Ironman organisers for the use of Lake Taupo? Well, I never. Imagine, trying to charge a fee for a commercial event run on your own property. Whatever is the world coming to. Talk about the thin edge of wedge. Next thing you know those boys will be flexing their muscles elsewhere, wanting a slice of the pie on other ventures too. It's as if they think they own the place.
You might have already heard the gasps of horror over news local Iwi want to levy race organisers for use of their sacred lake. I mean, Ngati Tuwharetoa only own it, for goodness sake. Who do they think they are? The upstarts. Mischief makers. Forget the 2007 deed of settlement, Taupo mayor Rick Cooper is right. This "asset was put there by the Good Lord". And by that he means his version of the "Good Lord"; not Tuwharetoa's.
Was listening to Cooper interviewed on radio last week. A straight-shooter, that man. Told it like it was. Didn't matter what was right or wrong, evidently; that was to miss the point. Neither did it matter that Iwi were perfectly entitled to charge a commercial operator for use of the lake (nor that Ironman NZ was a commercial enterprise). Oh no, he didn't dispute any of that. Problem was they shouldn't have been given it back in the first place.
And you can take it from me, Mr Cooper is no racist. How do I know? He told Radio Sport's Tony Veitch, "I am not racist". So there you have it. He also asked, and without a hint of irony: "What right has any government got to give away one of mother nature's beautiful assets to a group of people?" And look, you can see where he's coming from. Having stolen the land in the first place, what government in its right mind gives it back?
From all accounts, the extra costs will be borne by race competitors; about $40 an entrant. That's great logic. True, Mr Cooper is on record talking about the "millions of dollars" of free TV advertising and how much businesses depend on the event "to generate money for the district". Still, better to pass the levy on to participants rather than those making the loot, even if it jeopardises the future of the host area. Yes, makes perfect sense.
Point taken. If reports are true, that Tuwharetoa waited until a few weeks before the event to spring any hint of its demands on race organisers, you can understand why a few noses might be out of joint. Can sympathise with those caught unawares. I mean, cripes, how could they have seen this coming? Yes, as Mr Cooper grudgingly admitted, Ironman is a commercial event and the local Iwi does own the lake. But charge for it? How preposterous.
As an aside, checked up with organisers of next month's Vibram Tarawera Ultra Marathon and you wouldn't believe it. They'd front-footed the entire issue ages ago and paid fees to three parties, including two representing local Iwi. Makes you sick, doesn't it? PC wowsers. Just when you need everyone to stand together and call Maori's bluff, someone folds and does the right thing. And not only did they pay, they also thought it right to pay.
Have spoken to numerous people over the past week about Tuwharetoa's move and have heard strong arguments for and against. One curiosity, though. Amongst those who would normally promote the principles of the free market and the absolute rights of ownership, a disproportionate number seemed to contradict themselves as soon as Iwi were involved. Funnier still, they complained about different laws for different people.
Others seemed to think sport should be exempt. Oh, I know - professional sport is now a huge money-making scheme; drawing revenue from every possible source. Television rights and subscriptions, ticket sales, merchandising, parking; you name it and someone's making a buck from it. But the thought of a local Iwi taking a cut too? That seems to be when the "sport is a business" line goes mysteriously quiet.
In essence, the complaint seems to boil down to this: organisers of a commercial sporting event shouldn't have to pay for the use of land owned by Iwi. Why? Because, (1) it's not really their land, we're only pretending it is; and, (2) far too many other people are relying on it to make money.
Now, for goodness sake, who could possibly disagree with that?
- Sunday Star Times