26 September 2013

What A Bugger

Yesterday was absolutely heartbreaking for New Zealanders. To have come so close to winning the America's Cup only to have it snatched away by Oracle Team USA, in one of the most remarkable comebacks ever, was quite simply a bugger. New Zealand Prime Minister John Key even tweeted "bugger" after the race yesterday so its official.

Scott got some emails from his racing buddies in Scotland congratulating him on Oracle Team USA's win yesterday. They thought that because he is American he would be chuffed that a team with USA in its name won. They couldn't have been more wrong. We were rooting for Emirates Team New Zealand from the get go and when the New Zealand skipper, Dean Barker, got a little teary eyed yesterday, I did too. We've been permanent residents of New Zealand for five years now and have developed an affinity for all things Kiwi. (Well most things anyway. I still am on the fence about pineapple lumps, marmite and the need to put beetroot on anything that doesn't move.) But it isn't just the fact that we live in New Zealand that had us backing the Kiwis. What got me was the classic story of the humble underdog taking on the big arrogant beast bankrolled by billionaire Larry Ellison. And the fact that Oracle Team USA cheated was the icing on the cake. Plus there is only one American sailor on their crew so they don't even have a patriotism card to play.

The America's Cup is a truly bizarre sporting event. I'm not really into sport (well not at all), so I probably don't know what I'm talking about, but I'm not sure where the "sport" comes into it when a large factor in determining who wins is based upon who has the most money to spend on their boat. In some ways it really is a game for billionaires and less about sailing. I think Josh Levin describes it well in his article in Slate:

"The America’s Cup is the perfect contest for plutocrats. Rich people like to own sports teams, but are often frustrated that they can’t reshape the games they dabble in...In the world of big-time sailing, though, the rules are made to be rewritten. “When you win the America's Cup, you get to decide pretty much all the details about how, where, and when you get to defend the trophy,” explained Grantland’s Katie Baker. When Oracle CEO Larry Ellison won the Cup in 2010, he decided that the sport needed to be faster and more exciting. He conjured a new kind of vessel that was outrageously expensive to construct, limiting the competition to whoever’s richer than the people who own private islands. (Because of course the biggest problem with sailing is that it’s too accessible to outsiders.) Imagine the owner of the Miami Heat decreeing, after his team hoisted the championship trophy, that basketball should be played on a diamond-studded trampoline with a ball shaped like a starfish. To the victor go the spoils, and the spoils are really weird and cost so much that almost nobody else can afford to play."

One of the things that I love about New Zealand is their understated and self-effacing nature. But underneath that they have an incredible determination and self-belief which allows them to punch above their weight. They are the classic underdog. Who could imagine a small island nation of 4-1/2 million people taking on Oracle Team USA with all of its money and resources and get to match point. But they did and they did so with their trademark humility. Kiwis at home and around the world are proud of them. And we are too. Hopefully they'll be back to take on the billionaires again next time around.

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