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There is no doubt the America’s Cup brings waves of pleasure to many New Zealanders.
We revel in excitement and pride. We surge with nationalism, even though the team is a business as is the nature of professional sport these days.
At least, a large proportion of us do. Some “hate” the Cup as exemplifying rich, white men playing with fancy toys. For others, the Cup simply has little relevance.
But America’s Cup becomes New Zealand’s Cup for large numbers in this country when the racing itself begins. “Team New Zealand” is our team, whether we live in Dunedin, Dannevirke or Duntroon.
Television ratings surge, and everyone quickly becomes armchair experts in the intricacies of yachting. A band of sailors become our standard-bearers, our gladiators.
Little young New Zealand battles against those billionaires from across the ocean and their flags of convenience.
There is an extra swell of support, as well as benefit to this country, when the Cup is defended in Auckland.
At the same time, additional justification is made for the many millions of public money contributed to the campaigns — international exposure, facilities for the future, boosts for the yacht-building industry, high-tech development, high-worth visitors and a hoist in the nation’s reputation.
Dunedin’s Octagon thronged with people and overflowed with excitement when the America’s Cup was won in 1995. Thousands also turned up for a Dunedin parade on a drizzly day in 2017.
This is the understanding that underlines the Government’s and Auckland City Council’s commitment to back Team New Zealand with tens of millions of dollars.
They know the value of “feel-good”. They know how important “circuses” are in entertaining the masses, just as the Romans did.
But they also know the need for financial balance, the requirement for restraint.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and her Government are capable of missteps and misreading the mood. The elaborate Auckland bike and walking bridge plan, estimated to cost $685 million and announced last month, hit road spikes of public scorn.
At a time when much-loved nurses are using their industrial power to demand better conditions and salaries, the proposal appears to extravagantly pander to the well-off cyclists of the North Shore.
Generally, though, Ms Ardern and the Government reads the weathervanes of public opinion cleverly, no doubt also taking note of Labour’s private polling of the populace.
The Government certainly needed its wits in the America’s Cup negotiations with the canny and forceful Team New Zealand head Grant Dalton.
Together with the Auckland Council, the Government has come up with almost $100 million in cash and “kind” to keep the cup defence in Auckland.
Mr Dalton says twice that is needed. After the period of exclusive negotiation in New Zealand, the team is beginning negotiations with other cities on where the defences might be held and on what shape these might take.
Ms Ardern said the “best” offer has been made.
The figure is about right. We believe she will have the backing of a majority of New Zealanders for about that level but not for more. There must be limits, even in a time when Government money seems relatively loose.
A line must be drawn in the sand when thousands of New Zealanders are in emergency housing, when social problems and spending cries are as common as white-capped waves on a stormy day, when the Government knows it needs to endeavour to preach constraint.
If that means Team New Zealand sails away, so be it.
We might glory every few years in the successes and revel in the tension of the racing. We might enjoy the circuses our government helps provide. But, after all is said and all is done, the America’s Cup is but a contest and a business.
Support does not come at any cost.