Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Bread and Circuses

I was dragged away from a game of Civ IV the other night by a mate insistent I watch the final minutes of the Breakers Taipans basketball game. I was right in the middle of a war with George Washington, and it was only the offer of sharing an award winning stogie that clinched the deal.

As I understood things, the game was in double overtime with thirty seconds on the clock. Five minutes later, there were still 6 seconds on the clock. It was at this point I realised that while I tolerate sports in general, there is a particular loathing set aside in my head for American sports.

All American sports (baseball, American Football and basketball) share the same defect. They are complete rubbish. Sports are surrogate wars. The Ancient Olympics began as such, with javelin throws and marathon runs. The Scots had caber tossing before golf, which might be because they were late getting into the Iron Age and logs were the most sophisticated weapons they had on hand. No wonder they lost to the English.

Of course, there are exceptions to the rule. I subscribe to the Hadyn Green theory that soccer is not so much war as tantric sex, in that near goals are orgasms denied. No wonder it's the national sport of Catholic countries such as Brazil.

Sports are very similar to PC or console games in that they divide into two groups of action; turn based and real time. Only in American sports do they mix the genres with absurd "time outs". The only case in recorded history where hostilities were mutually suspended was during a soccer game in No Mans Land on the Western Front of the Great War on Christmas Day 1915. Every other day of war has been wall to wall slaughter with no time out.

So I watched with stoned despair the excruciating dribble of time that was the final minutes of the Breakers Taipans game. The pain of the Heineken Mastercard Rugby World Cup later this year, however, goes on.

The NZ Herald blasts the latest figures, $1.2 billion with an expected $500 million loss. Of course, there are other, off-budget, costs that aren't included in the public expense account. Rental accommodation for example, never the easiest to find with the explosive migration to Auckland, is wrecking havoc on the populace with landlord premiums seeking to make hay with the Rugby World Cup. The same thing happened back in 2003 for the America's Cup, with rents bumped to eye watering levels all for the sake of a few rich yachters and a broken mast.

Sure, there are benefits to the Heineken Mastercard Rugby World Cup. The environs around Eden Park are being dollied up as we speak, what with Road Works for Africa tidying every curb, levelling every footpath around the stadium. For once, the trains and buses might run on time. Auckland might even get integrated public transport ticketing sussed before the Cup, a miracle in itself.

But what could a $1.2 billion injection to our universities or research and development do to NZ's long term economic growth? How much electrification of Auckland's train network could have been completed with $1.2 billion?

Both main parties, Labour and National, are complicit in the old Roman policy of bread and circuses to appease public passions. Keep the public dribbling with blood sports and let them eat cake. Stuff leadership, stuff the future. We already gave South Canterbury Finance $1.2 billion so what's another $1.2 bill? Give the yachters another $36 million while you're at it, why don't you.