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Paul Thomas is a Weekend Herald columnist

Paul Thomas: Wrong again, but life will carry on after the loss

Against the odds we don't have the cup... and Mandela is doing well

Emirates Team New Zealand skipper Dean Barker with his team at the cup presentation. Photo / Brett Phibbs
Emirates Team New Zealand skipper Dean Barker with his team at the cup presentation. Photo / Brett Phibbs

Don't be unduly surprised if next Saturday night at Ellis Park, Johannesburg, the All Blacks are upstaged by 95-year-old Nelson Mandela kitted out in a Springbok jersey and reprising his 1995 World Cup final gig.

The reason this isn't entirely beyond the bounds of possibility is my track record when it comes to writing about things in advance.

Three months ago, when the great man was supposedly on his last legs and the international media was on 24-hour Mandela watch, I was asked to write an article about him to be published on his demise.

(This is standard journalistic practice; most obituaries of the famous are written before the individual in question is even a twinkle in an undertaker's eye.)

This week it was reported that Mandela was "responding to treatment" at his Johannesburg home.

A couple of weeks ago, I was asked to write about Team New Zealand winning the America's Cup, which at the time seemed as inevitable as the tide coming in.

That piece will never see the light of day - the America's Cup is staying in San Francisco.

It's a bitter pill to swallow, but swallow it we must.

In the grand sporting tradition of turning a negative into a positive, herewith seven reasons for not wallowing in despair or engaging in recrimination.

1. It's over. No more angst. No more having to make up excuses for being late to work. No more incomprehensible sailing jargon. No more having to listen to instant experts saying things like "Deano owns the starting box" or people claiming to know, courtesy of a friend of a friend who has some tangential connection with the event, the real reason for Oracle's comeback.

No more having to worry that poor old Martin Tasker mightn't get through the broadcast without blubbing like an orphan, or having to watch Chris Dickson's nutty professor impersonations.

2. It's only a yacht race. That's not to say it doesn't matter: sport does matter, but only for a short while. If it continues to matter long after the contestants have packed up and gone home, you've got your priorities askew. Forty-eight hours have passed since Oracle brought the hammer down. Time to get over it.

3. There's no disgrace - the opposite, in fact - in coming second in a high-profile global event. Dean Barker and his crew will be feeling wretched, but they've had a hell of a ride doing what they love and competing at the pinnacle of their sport.

4. There's no disgrace in coming second to a syndicate as well-resourced as Oracle. As I said in the piece that won't appear, "Oracle boss Larry Ellison, a modern Medici rolling in techno-wealth, had never encountered a problem that couldn't eventually be flattened by sheer weight of money." He still hasn't.

It's not sour grapes to refer to Oracle's resources; it's simply acknowledging a situation that has arisen time and again throughout America's Cup history. But Team New Zealand always knew what they were up against.

5. Parochialism is alive and well and living in places other than here. We sometimes cringe at the lengths our media go to impose a Kiwi angle on an international story.

You know the sort of thing: "A New Zealand aid worker is battling a nasty chill after getting his feet wet in the deadly floods that have swept away thousands of villagers in a remote region of Obscuristan."

This is how Britain's Daily Telegraph headlined Oracle's win: "Sir Ben Ainslie's team wins America's Cup." Ainslie was Oracle's tactician. He is from Macclesfield which, as you may have gathered, is a long way from San Francisco.

6. Team USA was a multinational enterprise to which New Zealanders made a big contribution. Some observers traced Oracle's turnaround to the arrival in San Francisco of experts and equipment from the syndicate's boat builder, Core Builders Composites of Warkworth. Oracle's campaign was masterminded by "our" Sir Russell Coutts and its Aussie skipper, Jimmy Spithill, owns $7 million worth of Auckland real estate, which surely makes him as much an honorary Aucklander as Kim Dotcom.

7. Auckland will not host the next America's Cup. While this means $500 million - or whatever figure someone with a really fast calculator plucks out of the air - won't be flowing into the local economy, that's a small price to pay for what we won't have to put up with - years of bleating about taxpayers underwriting a billionaires' sport and the frightful inconvenience of it all, ostentatious displays of wealth and outbreaks of vulgarity on the Auckland waterfront, or the fear of waking up one morning to learn that the City of Sails is now a fiefdom ruled by Murray McCully or Trevor Mallard.

- NZ Herald

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