Yachtitis by Trevor Plumbly
A Vile Bug Takes Hold
There’s a nasty virus sweeping the country just now and I’m a bit worried it’s the second outbreak in recent years. Australia had a national epidemic of it some time ago but seems to have it under control these days. ‘Yachtitis’ is slow to establish itself, but at its peak is highly contagious and mind-affecting. Symptoms are easily spotted: normally inoffensive folk start speaking in mariner tongue, dropping words like ‘gibe’, ‘spinnaker’ and ‘tack’ into normal conversation. They suddenly become sons of the sea, not your ‘yo-ho-ho and a bottle of rum sailors’, but America’s Cup yachtsmen, steely eyed and taciturn, muttering about bringing ‘the auld mug’ back to Auckland. Another marked side effect is that it destroys all vestiges of sportsmanship. The malaise hasn’t confined itself to the man in the street, it’s spread to the media: previously balanced reporters and commentators adopt a thinly veiled, sneering bias to the opposition, in one case labelling a member of the opposing team, a New Zealander, as ‘a traitor’. All this from the land of ‘fair go’?
Not a Real Sport
My problem is twofold: firstly, I find it hard to accept that this event is really a sport and secondly, I don’t really feel comfortable with hysteria, sporting or otherwise. Hundreds of our young sportspeople are forced to travel overseas, often at their own expense, to find more challenging competition; unpaid and unsponsored they turn out wherever and whenever they can. On the other hand, the America’s Cup must rank among the most exclusive contests in the world, so what’s the big deal for New Zealand? Only a miniscule proportion of our population will ever come into contact with the event or the actual sport. It’s hard to accept that any activity that spends more time in legal action and protest committee rooms than in competition can realistically call itself a sport while the race itself appears to depend as much on technology as it does on seamanship.
Exclusive and Elitist
Then of course there’s the cost: hundreds of millions get poured into this circus by various bodies including government agencies of one sort or another. Why? Apart from an invasion of uber-rich groupies, inflated accommodation prices and a faux party atmosphere round the wharf area, it doesn’t seem to offer much for the average Kiwi. Sure, there’ll be street parades, honours chucked around and politicians spouting off about ‘showcasing the country’. But honestly, is that really value for money? Imagine the $100 million invested to provide travel grants for our most talented young sportspeople, artists, writers and musicians: the return from that would be a damn sight more important and longer lasting than a few champagne corks popping on superyachts.
If anyone gets up in arms about this blog, then I say ‘Good!’, but please leave a constructive comment rather than resort to the childish sniggering aimed at the opposition by the public and the press during this competition. I repeat I am not anti-sport; in fact, I enjoy watching a great deal of it in all forms. Put simply, I’m anti-rabid jingoism and anti-elitism in any shape or form. Sporting contest by the rich and for the rich just doesn’t cut it for me.