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That auld mug? Why should anyone care?
Thursday 9 March 2000

No wonder the Kiwis hate us. This week, Team New Zealand became the first syndicate from outside the United States to successfully defend the America's Cup in its 149-year history, and the Australian media barely bothered to acknowledge it.

On Ten's Sports Tonight, the news was broken in the second-last segment, just after a long Tim Webster interview with Kenny Druce about a novelty golf shot he attempted at Royal Canberra. In The Age, it was reported on page 5 of the sports section. It seems that in Australia winning the America's Cup just isn't a big deal any more.

You might remember a time when winning the America's Cup was a big deal in this country. You might remember a time when winning an America's Cup encouraged prime ministers to hit the piss and declare a public holiday; a time when a yellow kangaroo delivering an uppercut threatened to push its way on to the national flag; when if you came up with a decent keel design, they'd name a car after you.

The significant difference now, I suppose, is that we are hopeless. Australia improved on its performance at the last America's Cup in the sense that the boat isn't on the ocean floor collecting barnacles, but even from the name of the syndicate, Young Australia, it's clear we never expected to win. And how right we were. Young Australia won just four races out of 30 in the challenger series late last year.

I suppose the Australian media could defend itself against charges of blind nationalism by saying that, internationally, the America's Cup isn't the story it once was.

Many would argue that what made Australia II's victory so newsworthy was that the cup had never been won by a challenger before. There was that huge screw that bolted the Auld Mug to the trophy cabinet in the New York Yacht Club, and when it was ceremoniously removed we gazed in awe at 19th-century rust.

Those swindling Americans had finally been out-swindled by a keel with wings, and we had a Western Australian (whom we have now found out can paint), spending millions of dollars of other people's money encouraging us to go berserk.

There's also little doubt the credibility of the race has taken a battering since Australia's failed defence in 1987. In the early '90s, the Americans and the New Zealanders got experimental with just what constituted a 12-metre yacht and, from memory, the result was match-racing between an aircraft carrier and a speedboat.

Nobody particularly followed the regatta, and even fewer followed up to watch the exciting conclusion in the law courts. By the mid-'90s, the America's Cup was dead in the water, and anxious millionaires looking for public relations tax write-offs started to embrace hot-air ballooning.

But the America's Cup has been back on track for some time now. The rules have been modified to create some sort of "level playing" sea. It remains the pinnacle event in world sailing, which is why Australia should feel somewhat shamed that it has taken next to no interest in Team New Zealand's triumph. After all, had the Federation debates of the 1890s progressed slightly differently and New Zealand become a state of Australia, news of Druce's novelty four iron would no doubt have been washed away in a sea of ticker tape.

This year, Australia is opening its doors to the greatest athletes on earth. Hopefully, our sporting media can allocate a respectable amount of coverage to the achievements of competitors from all countries, and not get caught in that familiar cycle of narrow jingoism, typified by our complete lack of interest in the America's Cup.

Maybe we could even take special care to acknowledge Olympic athletes from New Zealand, which for a country with just over three million people, consistently out-performs bigger nations in the sporting arena.

And then they might stop throwing bottles at our cricketers.

Tony Wilson is a Melbourne writer


Those Kiwi jokers can sail, but are a bit ordinary on the rugby field and, err, dare mention it, err, yeah, all right I will - they can't play cricket!

Regards from OZ

-- Pieter (, March 13, 2000

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