There's a certain surgical synchronicity about the juxtaposition of the team of young Thai footballers and their coach trapped in the subterranean labyrinth and the concurrent running of football's World Cup.

Both sets of devotees of the "beautiful" game have captured worldwide audiences, albeit in totally contrasting contexts.

Surprisingly, I've seen no other allusion to it — perhaps because the irony seems so rich it's almost a case of over-egging the obvious.

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But the juxtaposition seems like an allegory on a platter for the way of the world of late.
The team and coach have thankfully been heroically rescued, albeit tragically tinged with the death of one of the Seal divers.

But even — God forfend — if there had been greater loss of life, the actual fatalities involved would still have been dwarfed by those of hosts of other contemporaneous tragedies, such as the catastrophic flooding in Japan.

Yet the visceral, almost primeval survival drama of the trapped boys commanded magnetic interest and empathy; the lost boys, the dark labyrinth, the falling oxygen levels, the rising waters…

But on the one hand we have a vast worldwide audience locked into all the hoop-la and competitive dramatics of battle for supremacy in the world's most popular sport — complete with obscenely remunerated players, fractious with spoiled brat petulance over supposed infringements, crash-diving as though felled by Gatling guns, pathetically writhing on the ground in an effort to cheat and extort advantages.

And on the other we had a bunch of frail and vulnerable starving fellow footballers, marooned on a ledge in a vast underground cavern surrounded by rising waters, sombrely contemplating an uncertain fate in the pitch black.

Players of the same game: above ground, circuses for the multitudes, ecstasy for the triumphant, and conspicuous excess all around; below ground, for a minority, darkness and foreboding deprivation.

On the world stage, while generally rising standards of living have lifted many millions out of grinding poverty, nevertheless there's been an exponential gravitation of wealth to a conversely shrinking percentage of modern day nabobs. But where — on our own patch too — so-called working poor, two-income families struggle to cope with mortgages or rent while raising a family.

Frank Greenall
Frank Greenall

The fracturing of social equality has seen our relative standards of living plummet relative to other OECD countries to the point where we're now a world leader in many aspects of societal dysfunction.


We have greater access to technological trinkets, yet increasingly lose out on key benchmark quality-of-life bottom lines such as work hours, life/work balance, clean air and water, safety in the house and street, and so forth. The proverbial elephant in the room has been created by buying into a crock of false economics, and along with it an intractable underclass that's now so dangerously marooned it's debatable it can ever reconnect.

This is why we're even talking about topics such as mega-prisons, more women's refuges, and finding more foster homes for bereft kids.

Together with the myriad social support agencies, Corrections personnel, and the like, it's chewing up a quarter of the national budget — all dead money that should be going into housing, health, and education. The Labour coalition's KiwiBuild is better than nothing, but there's no way it's going to make the slightest dent in the core of de facto homeless, where a deposit of $65,000 is needed just to be in a ballot.

And the same applies to the raft of disengaged — particularly under-25s — who have slipped through the social and public cracks and are now effectively shut out of healthy social and economic participation. The week's best news was the Thai footballers' final emergence into the sweet light of day. Maybe there's hope yet to retrieve our alienated, but the strategy and commitment needs to be as radical and as innovative as that of the Seal team that did the business.