Cracker by Damian Christie

Sitting Duck

I've been quietly fuming for the past few days, muttering, swearing, enacting voodoo curses, mumbling in tongues and occasionally bursting into a fully-fledged rant to whoever's in my immediate vicinity at the time. If you've been in that vicinity, apologies. Part of this uncharacteristically irrational behaviour can be attributed to the fact that I've given up smoking. I'm not sure why I've given up, it just sort of happened, which means I'm destined to fail sometime soon. Paradoxically, knowing that I'm going to start again soon makes it easier to stop myself lighting up.

So this might explain where all this anger has come from, but it doesn't quite explain why I'm getting so damn wound up over the fact that the Government is planning to give thirty-four million dollars to fund Team NZ's 2007 America's Cup challenge. $34,000,000.00. That's a lot of zeros.

While to me this is an issue of principle, like most people I'm also a pragmatist, and my ire is raised in direct proportion to how much money is thrown at something I consider ill-advised. The initial four million or so I could forgive; it's still a waste of money, but the Government wastes four mil so often that I'm immune to it. Four mil is the Government saying; "look here's a bone, now go off to Switzerland, lose, and don't bother us again."

Looking closer though, this money was ostensibly given to secure the team so we don't face the same sort of nautical brain drain that led to our defeat last time. But isn't this missing the point? This is the team that lost five-zip, there's hardly going to be a queue of people outside the syndicate door with lucrative offers, is there? If anything we should have beaten them down, financially speaking: "Okay Dean, I'm prepared to go up to twenty-five dollars, but you'll have to wash your own uniforms."

But this latest thirty-odd million is a significant figure, not as easily dismissed. Importantly, it's more than a lot of other non-yachting things costs, which means that for the next however-long we're going to be hearing: "Perhaps the Government should take some of the money they gave to the yachting and spend it on dialysis machines/Transmission Gully/Embassy Theatre/wind farms…"

The biggest question that needs answering is WHY? It certainly doesn't appear to be a populist move, because nearly everyone I've heard, read or spoken to seems to be against it. It's hard to justify as "the Government getting in behind sports", when the entire SPARC funding for the year ended June 2002 was only $13 million. No, the Government's line seems based on two extraordinarily flimsy lines of reasoning; first, that having the black boat sailing in some European waters represents a great marketing opportunity for Brand New Zealand; second, that when we bring the Cup back home, the economic returns are enormous.

Okay sports fans, name the nine competitors in the Louis Vuitton and their country of origin. Now cross out those whose country you DIDN'T visit as a direct result of seeing them in the LVC. Alternately, circle those countries that you DID visit. Ex-actly. Thirty million buys a lot of advertising. Thirty million buys a fair bit of property too. In fact, for only $12.5m you can buy a huge building in San Francisco (for example), paint it with the letters "NZ" as big as you please and project pictures of our scenic paradise all over it. It'll be more of a talking point than a black boat sailing somewhere in Europe, and will say a lot more about Godzone than the letters "NZL" stenciled on a sail.

If we're just talking about sports, why the America's Cup? NZ driver Scott Dixon has just qualified fourth fastest for the upcoming Indianapolis 500, why not give him $30m to paint his car black with a silver fern? At least he's got a chance of winning. An estimated four billion people will watch the Rugby World Cup this year, why not give the All Blacks some money to wear black with a silver fern… oh hang on. Well why not give them some money anyway?

As for all this talk of the returns that will be generated by bringing the Auld Mug back home, it ain't going to happen. I'd love to say it will, or it might, but it ain't. We're lacking the money and the talent. It was obvious before we lost 5-0, and it's certainly obvious now. If anything, the Government should be asking what return they got on the money they contributed to the last campaign? We could have turned up in a dragon boat full of kindergarten teachers, a waka of amputees, and we wouldn't have lost any worse than 5-0. At least last time we were guaranteed a place in the final. This time around, the Government might as well take their $34m up to Sky City and place it all on 19 red. The odds are about the same.

New Zealanders know this too, which is why the move is so unpopular. That and the fact that we are an extraordinarily fickle bunch, and don't really like backing a losing team. We're also pretty embarrassed on the whole that we drove around for a few weeks with 'Loyal' flags flying from the aerials of our 4x4s.

So what does the Government know that we don't? Why is Trevor Mallard setting himself up over this issue? And why do you never see Donna Awatere and Donna Hall in the same room at the same time? Could it be? Tune in next week…