Kris Shannon runs through five reasons why New Zealand should stop knighting sportspeople.
1. Russell Coutts
That’s it. That’s the reason. But if more evidence is needed, Russell Coutts offers it every time he logs on.
The yachtie was knighted for services to yachting but it’s reasonable to wonder what service he’s currently providing – and whether his services warranted a knighthood at all.
Coutts took them offshore shortly after the America’s Cup triumph in 2000, an early example of chasing the bag wisely followed since by countless Kiwi sportspeople.
The 59-year-old has recently continued what seems a nice life as chief executive of the SailGP series, whose planned stop in New Zealand was, as many events were, scuppered by Covid.
Now he’s lending his services to the mess at parliament because, he says, it’s annoying to wear a mask while using the bathroom at a restaurant.
And as he added to the tedious Covid stuff in something of a non-sequitur, because he’s “against creating different rights, laws and privileges based on Race”.
Sir Russell Coutts, a multimillionaire who’s spent his career working for billionaires, is worried about other people experiencing privilege.
So worried that, after years of servicing himself, the knight says for the first time he’s been compelled to offer his services in protest.
2. Mark Todd
Unlike Coutts, it’s easy to feel sympathy for Mark Todd. Just imagine the misfortune of being caught on camera the one time you abuse a horse.
Imagine spending a life and career around the animal, and the very first occasion you whip one with a tree branch – 10 times – someone happens to have hit record. Talk about bad luck.
But even when assessing the myriad times we’ve seen Todd *not* abuse horses, did any of that justify a knighthood?
It’s a curly one. Todd was made Sir Mark in 2013 for services to equestrian sport - you might notice a theme here. And as with Coutts it’s difficult to argue that standing on a few podiums - with the small assistance of some rather talented and not-knighted animals - was enough to merit another pedestal.
Todd shouldn’t have his knighthood removed. That would grant the honour a moral relevance it didn’t deserve.
Let him remain Sir Mark, symbol to the folly of knighting a guy for being good at sport, and let that video remain high in his Google results.
3. Athletes are sufficiently well rewarded
Hmm, I feel like the prosecution can rest after that pair, but the nature of this column demands three more reasons.
Here’s an easy one: athletes so exceptional they earn knighthoods have, generally, profited nicely from their skills.
Which is well deserved, given the hard work and dedication required to reach the top level. But it’s not all 5am alarms and skipped desserts. There’s some fun stuff, too, financial and otherwise.
In any case, no athlete is weird enough play sport in search of a knighthood. Some even turn down the title.
And although it’s a sportsperson’s prerogative to accept, they probably shouldn’t have the chance, unless it’s someone like John Kirwan spending his post-playing career making a genuine difference.
4. There are plenty more deserving of attention
The same disparity can be found whenever an honours list is announced. After the page is turned from the big names hogging headlines, next comes a nobody who’s devoted their life to curing cancer in orphan puppies or whatever.
They might receive a spot on the order of merit or the other less prestigious categories, but they’ll just as soon be forgotten.
The achievements of the sporting star will be regurgitated, revelling once more in the glory days. The humble hero will deflect praise, keep their head down and get back to work, rarely again bothered by public attention.
There’s an argument for eschewing knighthoods entirely, and that argument may soon be presented. But if they endure, remember what Ron Swanson said: “Awards are stupid, but they’d be less stupid if they went to the right people.”
5. We should stop knighting everyone
Why stop at sport? Why not live in a world in which Kiwis can be good at their job and make lots of money without being further elevated by a fancy little title?
A world without knights, without princes and without even the monarchy. Uh oh, looks like we’ve stumbled into a little light republicanism.
Knighthoods, like the royals, are an archaic reminder of a time passed, a time when New Zealand sought protection and pat on the head from those who brought to this country colonialism.
These days, there’s no need for honorifics, and no need to remain under a the type of overlord who pays millions of pounds to women they never met and absolutely never sexually assaulted.
Surely we can ditch it all, ditch the sirs and dames and—oh wait, not the Commonwealth Games.
If we don’t keep taking on the old empire and winning bundles of medals, how will we know whom to reward with a knighthood?