From “All of Us” to “Us vs. Them”?

It’s America’s Cup time in New Zealand, but I’m just not feeling it.Aside from all the global pandemic problems taking focus and fans away it’s just not the same any more.

Whether it’s simply that these sailing boats no longer “sail”, but rather “fly” on hydrofoils;

Or that the billions of dollars involved in a single competitor’s campaign would make any Auckland real estate agent’s commission look like loose change;

Or that Team New Zealand’s funding was allegedly caught up in some sort of online scam (Do charming Nigerian princes even sail?).

Or the childish squabbling between billionaire backers makes school-yard squabbles look civil and mature.

It’s just not what it used to be.

Set Sail for Nostalgia!

Cast your mind back to 1986-87 in Freemantle, Western Australia and how it seemed our entire nation got behind KZ7, made of fiberglass & Kiwi innovation – “The Plastic Fantastic”!

“Dirty” Dennis Conner saying “You’re a loser, now get off the stage” to NZ designer Bruce Farr.

Conner storming off the set of the first ever episode of “Holmes” – A set up, sure, but what drama! “Dirty Dennis”, a vaudeville villain of international sailing if ever there was one!

In the vein of Band Aid’s “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” and USA for Africa’s “We are the World” New Zealand icons, TV and music stars even came together under the name “All of Us” to sing “Sailing Away” (I still have the vinyl record) – The only true New Zealand America’s Cup song. Listening to it 35 years later still brings a bit of a proud tear to the eye.

The New York Yacht Squadron could stick their Manhattan millionaires where the sun didn’t shine – We’ve had Barry bloody Crump SINGING A SONG!!

(Special musical mention goes to Dave Dobbyn’s “Loyal” for the 2003 America’s Cup campaign but, from memory, I think it got hijacked into a Lotto advert, sadly).

Even I got into the spirit of things – I would put my bike upside down on the deck of our trailer in the back yard.

The front wheel, turned side on, was KZ7’s steering wheel; The up-turned pedals were the grinders’ cranks.

The trailer’s triangular draw bar was the bow and the jockey wheel handle at its end cranked the sails up and down.

I raced for nautical miles and miles never leaving our grassy backyard in suburban Napier.

KZ7, of course, didn’t win.

Core samples, cries of bad sportsmanship and a yacht race that became billionaire backers racing lawyers.

Then came big boats, catamarans and bow sprits. The yachts may have floated on top of the water, but the tactics and mood would have given Davy Jones vertigo.

Fast forward to Peter Blake on NZL32, “Black Magic”

A nation of feet in red socks! 

The America’s Cup, is now NEW ZEALAND’S Cup!“, and three years later “The America’s Cup, is STILL New Zealand’s Cup!”
Great, patriotic times (even if still today most New Zealanders couldn’t tell their spinnaker from their forestay and think that a “Grinder” is a dating app on their phone)!

 

 

“All of Us” to “Us vs. Them”?

 

New Zealand last won The America’s Cup in 2017 after snatching defeat from the jaws of victory in San Francisco in 2013. But something just didn’t feel the same.

The races were held in Bermuda, and the coverage and time difference meant it wasn’t as wall-to-wall as it had been in previous years.

There were even indications that our team, Team New Zealand, the ingenious kiwi battlers of the 80s were becoming.more and more like the rest of the syndicates and focused on money and power.

So was it becoming a case of “All of Us” becoming “Us vs. Them”? 

Perhaps.

In times of Global Financial Crisis and austerity the NZ government and Auckland City Council together granted the 2021 America’s Cup tournament around $250 million in funding.

In a time when the country was facing up to profound levels of inequality and housing unaffordability so much being spent on something so unrelatable to average New Zealanders, or seemingly frivolous given the overarching societal circumstances rankled with lots of people.

Even the fact the race seemed preordained to be hosted in Auckland no matter what riled a few.

Imagine the benefits it could have had for regional centers like Tauranga, or Napier – both sea-side cities with strong marine cultures and industry. 

But no. Like everything else over the past 20+ years it was sucked in by Auckaland’s grandiose gravitational pull.

Shame.

Imagine America’s Cup races on Hawke Bay, with the starting signal being a Rocket Lab launch from Mahia!

Possibly the greatest indication of how distant we are from those heady days of KZ7 and “All of Us” (history showed us that perhaps Barry Crump probably wasn’t such a heroic icon after all) rather than remix, or revitalize “Sailing Away”, or create another nationally-backed sailing anthem 2021 America’s Cup organizers are apparently atrenpting to target the “Boomer” market by streaming in Rod Stewart in some demented attempt at a nation-wide karaoke sing-along of his hit “Sailing” to somehow support Team New Zealand?

This isn’t the bloody Mission Concert, people!

Like so many of New Zealand’s sports since the dawn of professionalism, it has become far more about the money than the mana. And that really sucks.

I haven’t seen any of the races in this years competition and don’t plan to.

I don’t really care if the billionaires go Sailing Away with Rod Stewart, or the America’s Cup.

I’d much prefer to watch youngsters learning to sail Optimist Class yachts on Napier’s Ahuriri Estuary.

It actually looks like sailing and is far more relatable – something for “All of Us”!

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