America's Cup win doesn't warm the hearts of everyone

If Emirates Team New Zealand's win over billionaire-backed Oracle speaks to you, then go ahead, live the dream.
GETTY IMAGES

If Emirates Team New Zealand's win over billionaire-backed Oracle speaks to you, then go ahead, live the dream.

OPINION: Am I the only one in the country not in fits of ecstasy over the America's Cup win?

The question is rhetorical. It's a rarely acknowledged fact that sport of any kind leaves a significant portion of the nation cold.

Whether it be the rejection of physical pursuits per se, a basic suspicion about competition or the well worn, quasi-Marxist argument that such things are just "bread and circuses" distractions for the masses, the effete and the intelligentsia have issues with games and the hoopla that surrounds them.

Richard Swainson doesn't share in the joy seen at the Tauranga Yacht and Power Boat Club after the TNZ win.
DOMINICO ZAPATA/FAIRFAX NZ

Richard Swainson doesn't share in the joy seen at the Tauranga Yacht and Power Boat Club after the TNZ win.

Whatever else that might be said about Emirates Team New Zealand besting this and that syndicate off the shores of Bermuda, the timing was convenient for the government.

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Just as the prime minister's elasticity with the truth over Todd Barclay's "sex and drugs" recording of his subordinate seemed certain to have ramifications beyond Bill English and the confessional box, a sporting corporation with an Arab name stole all the headlines.

Nationalism and sport is another thing that bothers many people. My wife is forever mocking the assertion that an All Black victory somehow equates to a "win" for the country. She resists the collective "we", that notion that allows the collective many to bask in the glory of the select few, that basic identification between a representative team and the rest of us in whose name they supposedly compete.

I understand her point, if only because my own identification has definite limits. Some enthusiasts – perhaps those with more nationalistic proclivities – support all sporting codes with equal vigour. I certainly don't. Indifference would be an understatement when it comes to my attitude toward rugby league.

Leaving aside the inherent inferiority of the code in terms of subtlety and spectacle, how can you emotionally invest in a sport whose international competition is limited to no more than two-and-a-half teams? When the Kiwis take the field, they certainly don't do so on my behalf.

"The America's Cup exacerbates class differences."
GETTY IMAGES

"The America's Cup exacerbates class differences."

I've been known to take perverse pleasure in their default-setting losses to Australia, results almost as amusing as the never-ending delusions and topsy-turvy form of the so-called "New Zealand" Warriors.

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Maybe my anti-league prejudice is just snobbery. It's grounded in class and background and upbringing. Ours was a household that routinely mocked league whenever it came on television. In an era when the All Blacks were the only game in town, rugby league wasn't even the embarrassment it usually is today. It was virtually invisible.

What then of the America's Cup? If rugby league could broadly be described as the code of the working man, yachting is the recreation of the elite. We are of course, dealing in generalisations.

Kiwi Russell Coutts is Chief Executive Officer of Team New Zealand's rival Oracle.
REUTERS

Kiwi Russell Coutts is Chief Executive Officer of Team New Zealand's rival Oracle.

I'm aware that the sport I grew up with, squash racquets, is in some circles equally thought of in class terms. It's a trend seen especially in English television and films, where it's only played by posh Oxbridge types. Still, whatever New Zealand's fine record in Olympic yachting, in either youth or adulthood, I cannot recall ever enjoying the acquaintance of a yachtsman. These folk went to different schools, many of them private.

The America's Cup exacerbates these class differences. If ever there was a pastime exclusive to the ultra-rich and decadent, it is the frequently corrupt, perpetually litigious competition for the "Auld Mug", the oldest and dirtiest international sport. You would be hard pressed to name a code where your lawyers were as important as your players or one so devoid of basic sportsmanship.

For most, I suppose, all this makes Emirates Team New Zealand's victory all the sweeter. The battling minnows of Godzone defeat the deep-pocketed billionaire Larry Ellison with number 8 wire innovation and Kiwi spirit. If this narrative has meaning for you, go ahead, live the dream.

My own cynicism is fuelled as much by the number of New Zealand born personnel involved in rival syndicates, a sure sign that the sport is more about money than national pride. In this regard, the character of Sir Russell Coutts assumes almost legendary status.

Back in 2003, at the same time as Team New Zealand had appropriated Dave Dobbyn's patriotic anthem, extolling the rest of us to be "loyal", the likes of Coutts and Brad Butterworth were anything but, prostituting their talents, becoming the cornerstones of Alinghi's success.

It was like Dan Carter or Richie McCaw in their prime, lining up for Australia or the Springboks at a World Cup. Except All Blacks tend to put their country first.

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 - Stuff

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