Saturday, July 07, 2007

Americas Cup

The America’s Cup yachting regatta in Valencia is finished.

I am not sure why I am writing about this event, because most people in the world do not care about it. Most Americans are not even aware that it is on.

But New Zealand is obsessed with the America’s Cup. The cup takes its name because it was held by the United States for over 100 years. In 1995, a New Zealand team defeated the American defender to win the cup. It defended the cup successfully in 2000, but the cup was lost to a Swiss challenger in 2003. During this last regatta, Team NZ failed in an attempt to win it back.

A number of things strike me about this strange obsession.

  1. The power of television to hype up an event is amazing. Most New Zealanders would not know a halyard from a sheet, but after a concerted television campaign, most have come to believe our emotional and physical well-being of our nations depends on winning this yacht race. People who do not care about yachting were sitting up through the night to watch a yacht race on TV.

  2. There is something strange about the New Zealand psyche that makes us want to compete in events that most nations ignore and which no one cares about. Then when we do well in a “nothing event”, we pretend that we are special. I think this bizarre need comes out of a deep-seated insecurity.

  3. Then when we lose, we try to pretend our loss was a victory. In this case the television commentators came to the rescue. Although New Zealand lost the final 5-2, they are claiming that it was a close run thing, because the last race was lost by one second. They are claiming that the loss was a success, because we proved that we could compete with the "big boys". They are also claiming a moral victory by portraying the event as a David and Goliath struggle; poor New Zealand against the rich Swiss. Given that the New Zealand government contributed $38 million and middle eastern airline was a major sponsor this is not true.

  4. Pretending that defeat is victory prevents people from dealing with reality, yet this is what we are doing. New Zealand must be one of the few nations in the world that celebrates a defeat in war as a National day. What does that say about us? The television commentators became cheer leaders for the NZ team. They continually pretended that Team NZ had made no mistakes. When races were lost, it was always bad luck, never bad decisions. Their presentation was so biased that they could not ask any critical questions about the performance of the team they were supporting.

  5. The event demonstrates the inability of governments to pick winners. Team NZ has now lost two events in a row. Yet the government has already signalled $40 million for another attempt to win the cup. These guys have failed twice, but the government never thinks to ask why will they do better next time? That is why they are skilled at picking losers.

  6. Then there is the bizarre idea that the government gets most of the $40 million back in tax. If this was correct, then any government could dish out billions of dollars that it does not have knowing that it will get it all back in tax. Unfortunately, the world does not work like that.

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