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September 30, 2013 | by  | in Opinion | [ssba]

Hoopin’ and Hollerin’

Bugger. Well, we didn’t win. I feel like this doesn’t really need to be introduced, but for the last year our boys on Emirates Team New Zealand have been trying to win back the Auld Mug, the America’s Cup, and last week our efforts were proved to be in vain. Sure, our heartstrings have snapped like spinnakers in a gale, but golly gosh it was a great time while it lasted. It only cost us $36 million to put the boat in the water, which is a tenth of what the Rugby World Cup cost, and I think we can all say it was worth it. Well, maybe. Emotions have calmed down, so maybe it’s time to start the analysis. You could look at it like an investment which didn’t pan out. If we’d won, we would have given Auckland another great event for their waterfront, and plenty of networking opportunities for the business elite. That’s something everyone can appreciate.

But you know what? That kind of thinking is way too Rutherford House for me. I don’t like the idea that everything should be measured by costs, benefits and invisible hands. We like sports, dammit, and we don’t think about the price tag. We join clubs that are literally going bankrupt because they don’t want to charge us too much in the way of subs, even when a lot of people don’t pay them at all. And that’s fine. We’re hosting the Cricket World Cup, which makes absolutely no sense at all, but holy shit: India, South Africa and England will all have their teams here at the same time. It’s gonna be awesome.

If we go back to the America’s Cup, you’ve got to ask yourself what exactly it was that we enjoyed about watching it. It was the simplicity. These are immensely powerful pieces of equipment, incredible feats of engineering, and yet it boiled down to screaming at the TV when one boat pushed the little line out further, or getting that glamour shot of the finish line. As beautiful and complicated as sailing can be, most New Zealanders really enjoyed it on a basic level. That’s something that gets missed out when we count the costs of things, or when non-sports-fans try to understand the appeal. It’s really not the score that counts; it’s how you get there.

Randall Munroe of xkcd once brilliantly described sport as “a weighted random number generator” that we use to “build narratives”. Which is true. But by taking the meat out of the sandwich, so to speak, he’s drawing attention to it. At the end of the day, results and scores are just numbers. Seasons and trophies are just narratives. But it’s the weighting, the great emotional moments and the big plays, which gives us our real joy. We watch sport to follow our team and their narratives, sure, but on a fundamental level we’re engaging with it for the feels. And you really can’t put a price on feels.


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