A cup to drown New Zealand’s sorrows in

By Dev Nadkarni

At last there’s something for Kiwis to cheer about. Last month’s victory over France to end the 24 year wait for another Rugby World Cup win was indeed nail biting to the very end, even pyrrhic some would say, but it was a win all the same. And a win is a win is a win, even if it is only just.

New Zealand and the All Blacks needed it. Badly.

In many ways this year has been eminently forgettable for the whole world. There has been little to cheer as a slew of disasters of both the natural and financial kind – not to mention bloody political turmoil in many parts of the Middle East – unfolded with such metronomic regularity.

New Zealand had one of its worst years in recent memory. The country has never seen a natural disaster on the scale of the Christchurch earthquakes, which resulted in the loss of more than 160 lives and loss of assets running into billions of dollars. The aftershocks continue and some 7500 of them have been recorded since the big one on February 22.

Then there was the Pike River disaster, which took 29 lives. A succession of financial disasters that led to the bankruptcies of a number of high flying investment bankers and the liquidation of their organisations, put thousands of Kiwi “mum and dad” investors out of pocket.

And smack in the middle of the seven week long Rugby World Cup event that brought some 100,000 overseas visitors to its shores, a container ship, the Rena, ran aground on a reef on the picturesque Bay of Plenty, causing one of the worst maritime environmental disasters the country has ever seen.

So, the Webb Ellis cup will indeed be the cup that cheers all of New Zealand – and will, in all likelihood, be enough to help the rugby mad country to wash away all the year’s accumulated sorrow.

For a team that never in the history of the Rugby World Cup lost a single pool match, the All Blacks’ record in quarters, semis and the finals of the tournament ever since it won the inaugural one in 1984 has been disappointing. But this year, their convincing semis win over the Wallabies convinced most Kiwis and All Blacks fans all over that the Cup was in the bag. The French, though, put up a tough show and kept the All Blacks and their fans on tenterhooks till the final whistle.

The big win comes at a crucial time for New Zealand. For later this month, on the 26th, the country goes to the polls. Prime Minister John Key’s National Party led government has been wildly popular and is expected to win fairly easily, going by the lead it has maintained over its rival Labour Party in successive opinion polls over the past year.

A few months ago, a group of psephologists working from several countries published an academic report that found an overwhelming correlation between a country’s national team winning an important, major sporting event and an incumbent government being re-elected in a poll – if the poll was held close on the heels of the winning sporting event.

By that reckoning, the All Blacks win assures the National Party a happy romp home on November 26. But in any case, the party’s position was so much ahead in the opinion polls, that even an All Blacks loss at the finals would not have affected the result greatly.

As things stand National has virtually no opposition – which is an extremely undesirable scenario in a democracy. One hopes that after the November election Labour will hopefully get its act together, have an effective leadership in its forefront and prove a worthy parliamentary counter to the ruling party.

Labour has failed in projecting an image of a party that is solidly behind its leader, Phil Goff. It has a serious crisis of leadership and has shown extreme paralysis in dealing with it. Quite obviously, the strategy of the second line of the leadership has been to treat this election as a lost cause and hope for better traction in the years to 2014 – until then let Phil Goff lead and become the obvious fall guy after this year’s election.

The policies that it has come up with so far, too, have little to draw supporters of the ruling party to it. But whatever sparkling policy Labour comes up with in the little time that is left until the November 26 polls, there is little ground it can cover to close the gap with National.

If it wins this months election, National’s second term will probably be far more eventful than its first. On many important issues it has more than soft-pedaled, even going slow on its 2008 election promises, despite the overwhelming mandate. It is likely that boosted by its re-election it will be tempted to bring in its cherished policies too fast in the second term. A meaningful, vigilant and strong opposition can provide a strong counter.

Meanwhile, the win will doubtless bring back confidence at all levels as the country moves into the high spending season that is Christmas. A boost in confidence and bigger spending in the run up to next year, will undoubtedly be good for the economy, if it could be translated into growth.

Social scientists and economists are predicting a spurt in spending and there is one study that says there will be a mini baby boom nine months from now – just as there was one nine months after the country won the world cup the last time in 1987.

The feel good factor is often the most important energisers that will set the economic ball rolling faster in any country. And New Zealand has plenty of it since last month’s win – even if it continues to borrow close to $400 million every week to pay its bills.

The nation has been so preoccupied with the Rugby World Cup that nobody has paid enough attention to other matters of importance. For instance, the response to the public submissions to Auckland City’s thirty-year strategic plan was so poor that the last date has been extended.

Similarly, with less than a month remaining for the elections, the campaign heat is only just building up. The political parties will find it hard to catch the attention of the celebrating Kiwis over at least the next couple of weeks.

Undoubtedly, the win is exactly what the doctor ordered for New Zealand.


First appeared in Islands Business, November 2011