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David Miller: Let the Sailing do the Talking

David Miller Online

Let the Sailing do the Talking

The forthcoming showdown between Team New Zealand and Alinghi must be a marketing persons dream come true. Russell Coutts has seldom been far from the news since he and several others parted company with Team New Zealand to join the Swiss syndicate. Given the talent that joined the Swiss challenge and the money Alinghi has behind it, it was always the sure bet that the two would one day be facing off. Unfortunately Coutts and the other Kiwi members of Alinghi have made the news for reasons other than sailing with a local campaign had been launched that personally targeted those New Zealanders who choose to race for rival syndicates.

The launching of campaigns such as Blackheart, cast an unfortunate shadow over the America’s Cup and portrayed New Zealanders in a very poor light. The idea and motivation behind such campaigns may have merit in principle, that is supporting a Kiwi sporting effort, but to target the sailors on a personal level has none at all. It is one thing to be patriotic and proud to support the New Zealand effort but here some ‘supporters’ certainly overstepped the mark.

Sport at the top level has long since stopped being a past time in which men and women participated in during their spare time and purely for the love of their country. At the national and international level, sport has become a multi million dollar business and as a result of this monetary trend, top sportsmen and women have had to become business people as well as athletes. Therefore we have seen and will continue to see leading New Zealand sporting talent lured overseas by the opportunity to earn more money. To some this is ‘unpatriotic’ however the reality is that if there is money to be made then people should be allowed the chance to earn and if that makes them sporting rivals for New Zealand teams then so be it. This is the realty in the age of professional sport.

Sailing and the America’s Cup are one of the high profile examples with so many corporate leaders and identities involved. It seems acceptable for these people such as Larry Ellison to anchor their super yachts in New Zealand harbours and bring wealth into the country yet some people cannot accept them hiring the best in the business to race their boats for them. New Zealand has such a rich yachting pedigree so it would seem natural that our sailors are the ones to whom offers are made, hence the double standard. Those syndicates that have competed for the America’s Cup are privately owned and funded and one should not forget that Team New Zealand while backed by corporate sponsors races under the flag of the Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron and not a national sporting body. Nevertheless, they are the organisation that currently represents New Zealand’s best chance of retaining the cup and it is great to see the country get behind them.

Accepting the fact that Russell Coutts and others will defect from New Zealand to race for overseas syndicates does not make people disloyal or unpatriotic. However, standing on the side of the Viaduct Basis making obscene gestures, shouting abuse and sending threats to sailors families makes New Zealanders appear narrow minded, crude and a population with nothing more to do than get upset at a yacht race. While Team New Zealand is the only defender in the regatta then there is no doubting where Kiwi loyalty will lie. Russell Coutts would not argue with that but let the sailing do the talking and not some sad misguided campaign over patriotism. The Team New Zealand – Alinghi showdown will be a great sporting event and if the extremists have made Coutts and company more determined to win then they have themselves to blame. This is of course until the funding can be found to raise a second New Zealand challenge, possibly a South Island challenge, and then things would become interesting. Where would the loyalty lie then?


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