A dose of healthy competition

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    The America’s Cup has suddenly sailed over the horizon.

    This past week has seen a notable rise in coverage, from Team New Zealand vogue-ing for the TVNZ cameras as they were put through their PR exercises and American Magic’s Defiant pictured training in the waters around Waiheke, to our very own Serena Woodall’s news that she’s been selected by the Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron (RNZYS) as part of its White team to compete at next year’s Youth America’s Cup.

    That we’ve reached this position at all is quite extraordinary considering the state of world sport in these Covid times. The America’s Cup calendar and challengers list is a little ragged – both Malta’s Altus Challenge and DutchSail from the Netherlands have withdrawn, launch dates for the new AC75s were delayed and America’s Cup World Series events in Cagliari, Sardinia, and Portsmouth, England, have been cancelled.

    But the dogged determination to stage the third and final World Series event in December followed by the Prada Cup Challenger selection series in January and February, a youth America’s Cup in February and March, and then the main event from 6 to 15 March seems to be bearing fruit.

    The success of Super Rugby Aotearoa in attracting a breakfast-time UK viewing audience of around 100,000 shows just how attractive New Zealand’s broadcasts can be to sport-starved fans – and although the expected throngs of America’s Cup visitors may still be a doubtful prospect, the importance of being able to show the world that we’re open for business and can stage serious international competitions simply cannot be understated.

    Sporting codes around the world are struggling to cope with fan-less venues, restrictions for athletes, and endless uncertainty. From the astronomical financial hit on Japan’s economy of delaying the Olympics, to the appalling way the Warriors’ players and families have been treated to save the skin of the cash-strapped NRL; and from Major League Baseball’s floundering fixture list in the face of snowballing positive tests to top tennis seeds struggling to fit mandatory quarantine rules around their grand slam timetables, the emphasis seems now to have shifted away from sporting prowess towards the complicated nuts-and-bolts of participation.

    The America’s Cup provides an opportunity for sport to once again focus on excellence.

    On Waiheke, we care about sport. A lot. Sure, there will be readers out there wondering what all the fuss is about wealthy syndicates hurtling around the Hauraki Gulf in hydrofoil-fitted flying boats, but the vitality and significance of world class competition on our doorstep can’t be underestimated.

    Every Saturday and Sunday the island fair hums with travelling or visiting sports teams across a variety of codes and we’re home to some pretty high-flying men’s and women’s football, league and rugby teams.

    There’s a reason why Gulf News devotes so much space at the back of the paper to sports reports – it matters to a large proportion of our community. 

    And these generations of athletes all have their idols. How good is it for some of these idols to be playing around in our own back yard? How many more Serena Woodalls could yet be bred from Waiheke thanks to having America’s Cup teams foiling around “The Paddock” – the favoured training area between Browns Island and the bottom of Motuihe – for the next eight months? 

    When the Rams league club manages to grow an NRL star like the Melbourne Storm’s Brandon Smith, it seeds the potential for success in every little tucker who dons the green-and-red and heads down to the Ostend Domain for weekly training sessions and games. What’s to stop us growing football, netball and rugby stars to match?

    New Zealand has recently – and almost surreptitiously – crept into contention as one of the world’s foremost venues for sports tournaments. Next year, as well as the America’s Cup, we are due to play host to the Women’s Cricket World Cup in February and March and the Women’s Rugby World Cup in September and October. We have also recently scored dual hosting rights with Australia for Fifa’s Women’s World Cup in 2023 – which eclipses any rugby or cricket world cup in terms of viewership, sponsorship and global interest.

    Each competition will bring with it hundreds of international-class athletes – all of them potential idols for Kiwi kids.

    The director-general of health Dr Ashley Bloomfield continues to urge us not to be complacent about our Covid-free status – and watching the horrors of Melbourne unfold over The Ditch, it’s clear quite what’s at stake. But while we remain relatively unimpeded by this catastrophic global pandemic, we should be duty-bound to make the most of it. Sport helps grow new generations of healthy Kiwis, so we must make the most of the sporting excellence we have sailing into view right now. • James Belfield

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