It's a shame Sir Russell Coutts felt moved to call the government a "dictatorship" over Covid-19 this week, using sport as a club to beat them with.
The world has never dealt with this pandemic before; there are no black and white solutions, just difficult shades of grey in an ever-changing tableau. There are no instant remedies, no certainties – and anyone who says "I know what to do" needs to be regarded with a healthy amount of scepticism.
Which doesn't stop everyone becoming instant experts, especially those who complain about reduced "freedoms", as Coutts did in a lengthy post on Facebook. Yes, Facebook... that paragon of information sharing - accused of enabling the likes of slut-shamers, holocaust deniers, hate speech and misinformation - now instituting a convenient name change.
Coutts seems blind to the irony of having a stab at New Zealand media on Facebook, one of the social media sites in which the conspiracy theorists, anti-vaxxers and maladjusted spread their tinpot theories. Ah, social media – five million dead from Covid-19; wonder how many were caused by misinformation - yet Coutts accuses the New Zealand media of "mis-reporting" and "promoting fear".
There was no mention of what might be a motivation for his post – the inaugural Christchurch round of his SailGP series set for the end of January was sunk when the government denied access to MIQ facilities for the 160-odd contingent of teams and staff.
Coutts gives sporting examples of stadiums overseas bulging with fans, the implication being that wee, timorous Kiwis are hiding in the dark, whimpering at the approach of strangers. He instances the Premier League, other football leagues, Ryder Cup golf and the All Blacks playing the USA in front of 40,000 in Washington.
But life's not really "largely returned to normal", as he contends. Take the UK. On Wednesday this week, there were over 200 Covid deaths and 44,000 cases; over 1000 deaths in the week to Wednesday. Experts are predicting worse to come during the northern winter, the acid test for the UK Covid approach – where only 68 per cent are fully vaccinated.
Premier League fans have to prove full vaccination status or a negative Covid test to gain entry to a ground. Ryder Cup fans had to wear masks indoors and were encouraged to do so outdoors, few did. No one really knows how widely the virus is being spread by such gatherings.
So, if New Zealand is such a "dictatorship" and Europe so free, as Coutts insinuates, why doesn't he try living in Europe in a near dictatorship – Russia? Sure, only a third of the population might be vaccinated but, as Coutts tells us, he is double-vaxxed.
Russia has been living the freedom dream. In an Associated Press story from about a week ago, deaths were averaging close to 1000 a day in a country of 146 million, 32 per cent fully vaccinated. Plenty of freedom there, according to AP, with life carrying on as normal: "Even as ICUs have filled in recent weeks, life in Moscow has continued as usual, with restaurants and movie theatres brimming with people, crowds swarming nightclubs and karaoke bars and commuters widely ignoring mask mandates on public transportation".
The death toll is heading for 240,000 (the highest in Europe) but wait... news break: Russia' s just gone into an 11-day lockdown. Huh. Could freedom be an overrated commodity right now?
So here's a couple of freedom-based questions:
- If New Zealand opened up before becoming a more vaccinated society, how many deaths would be acceptable so people are free to sit in the stands at Eden Park and watch the All Blacks?
- What about my freedom not to be infected? What about the freedom of the vulnerable not to be hospitalised and, um, die?
So forgive me, Sir Russell, but I can't really take your "dictatorship" complaint seriously. Sure, this government hasn't always got it right or acted quickly enough. They will make more mistakes, nothing is certain as they tread a path never before navigated.
I sympathise entirely with anyone who can't get back to New Zealand to see family and friends for Christmas or for more pressing or tragic reasons. I have two daughters in that boat. Maybe that is what fuelled Coutts – his post talked about "the loss of precious time with family and friends".
It didn't include any clues as to his whereabouts but maybe he is missing out in the MIQ lottery to get back either to his home in Whangaparaoa or maybe the place in the Crown Range in Arrowtown, the one with the private 36-hole golf course, the source of a dispute with neighbours over water rights.
That MIQ regime is clearly on the way out and, anyway, let's not mistake incapacity for incompetence. The government – and the majority of Kiwis, I believe – are grateful that their controls have meant only 28 of us (so far) in the team of 5 million have died, forming only a tiny part of that other team of 5 million who are no longer with us.
If that means we are slower than the rest of the world to fill up our sports grounds, then so be it.