David Leggat on sport

David Leggat is a Herald sport writer

David Leggat: Reaction to Cup defeat a test of our maturity

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Dean Barker and his team resembled a game but tiring racehorse. Photo / Brett Phibbs
Dean Barker and his team resembled a game but tiring racehorse. Photo / Brett Phibbs

The coming days, possibly weeks, will provide a good test of the maturity of New Zealand the sporting nation.

Once the waters have calmed in the wake of Team New Zealand's defeat in the America's Cup - and the manner of it as much as anything, a tortuous drip, drip of Oracle closing in and the silverware a frustrating fingertip away - how will the nation come to see the events on San Francisco Bay?

New Zealand's track record in this respect is not good.

To be fair, the only relevant comparison is with the national game.

At one point during the Oracle-Team NZ showdown, a breathless broadcaster described this contest as developing into the greatest event in New Zealand's sporting history. Just in sailing, for starters, you could throw in the winning of the Auld Mug in San Diego in 1995 as a valid contender in that category. Things really were getting silly.

At times like that you realise how short memories can be - possibly even conveniently so.

Remember the World Cup final at Eden Park? It was less than two years ago.

With the greatest respect to those who have made New Zealand among the most respected of sailing nations - loaded with skilled practitioners in the various nautical arts and who attract high price tags in the global yachting market - consider the weight of expectation on the All Blacks to deliver that night.

What would have happened if France had kicked a penalty, which on many another night they might have been awarded late on, and won 10-8?

A suspicion, which you would hope is misplaced, is that things would have become distinctly unpleasant.

Think back to the reaction - akin to a bad-tempered child tossing toys hither and yon, only uglier - for weeks after the All Blacks' failure to lift the Webb Ellis Cup in 1999.

The worst of Sports Nation New Zealand was on view after that defeat by France at Twickenham. Not to forget 2003 and 2007.

The early indications with Oracle's remarkable victory from 1-8 down are that a relative calm has descended on the country.

There were warnings before Thursday's denouement as Dean Barker and his men were being reeled in with every outing, a game but tiring racehorse straining every sinew to get its head to the line first.

Perhaps that released some of the frustration, an appreciation - if that be the right term - of what was coming.

Consider the words of Hugh McIlvanney, one of Britain's finest sports writers: "Sport is a nonsense; a very serious nonsense, but still a nonsense."

Whenever you hear someone refer to a sporting defeat as a tragedy this mind thinks of those words.

Syria is a tragedy; events at the shopping mall in Nairobi this week were a tragedy; house fires which kill are tragedies; children drowning are tragedies.

What took place in San Francisco, or in past World Cups, were demonstrably not.

Piles of taxpayer dollars were used in the America's Cup. Serious analysis is to be welcomed, indeed should be appreciated, not the "sink the lot of 'em" line.

And if New Zealand exhibits some perspective in the days ahead, perhaps it can be read as a sense having been gained of what really matters in life.

- NZ Herald

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