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All Black and White

Neikrie’s Notes: All Black and White

I didn’t even know the Sochi Olympics had started until I saw a replay of the opening ceremony the next morning. I was channel surfing and happened to come across it.

How had this happened? My family, along with most of the United States, had been counting down the days. After all, the Olympics are the world’s greatest sporting event, an international show of prowess and skill, of culture and history. The Olympics transcends border disputes or diplomatic tiffs, all in the name of watching people compete to run faster, jump higher, or–in the case of curling–sweep better.

My mom followed the trials for figure skating, my sister watched every preliminary event for snowboarding, and I knew every skier competing. So how had the Olympics suddenly dropped off my radar? Because few New Zealanders seemed to care.

I understand that New Zealand doesn’t exactly dominate at the winter Olympics. I’m sure the summer Olympics are a greater fare. But I was still shocked when I realized how little attention was given to the games.

At first, I have to admit, I chalked this up to being a bit of a national blindspot. Down at the bottom of the map, struggling to overcome its size and geographical issues, had New Zealand just gave up and stopped watching the Olympics?

But then I attended the Rugby Sevens tournament.

Amid all the drinking and partying and ridiculous outfits, I noticed something striking about the Sevens. For one of the biggest events in the country, the stands were largely empty and the crown fairly mild. Until the All Black Sevens team came out.

They didn’t even have to step foot on the field before the crowd went crazy. They did a couple of warm-up drills, threw the ball around a little, and then walked off with their hands on each others shoulders like soldiers about to go to war. And the crowd ate it up.

Never mind their thrashing of the competition. Never mind their crushing blows or exquisite runs. The All Blacks won before they even took the field.

In the U.S, football (or American Football as it’s known here), consumes everything. It’s more of an industry than a sport. With such a short season (16 games for each team), every match is treated like the Game To Rule Them All. And between the fire and the face paint and the rabid fans, you almost believe it.

But in America, sports divide people as much as they create community. All you have to do is look up the video of Marcus Smart, the Oklahoma State basketball player who shoved a (probably racist) fan to understand the negative effect sports can have on American culture.

This is what makes the All Blacks so special. Support for the All Blacks seems to consume every other sporting event, even the Olympics. Is there another national team so universally beloved, so unanimously supported? They have the history and the culture. The name and the legacy. And oh boy do they win.

In the U.S, such consistent dominance would only make a team more divisive. Ask any Major League Baseball fan what his favourite team is, and he will tell you it’s whichever team is playing the Yankees. Ask any American football fan which team they dislike the most and they will reply, “The New England Patriots of course. I hate how smug they are. They always win.”

The winning culture and competitive nature doesn’t seem to have pervaded other sports in New Zealand. But for the All Blacks, winning is an expectation.

I look around New Zealand and am proud to see the jerseys and colors of American sports teams. But as a new resident of Wellington, I am equally proud to say that American has never had a team like the All Blacks. And it never will.

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