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No Love Lost

Commentary

No Love Lost

New Zealand is a country of sports fans. They love competition and are well educated in the many facets of the sports that they follow. What they cannot comprehend, or tolerate, is bad sportsmanship. They may be fiercely patriotic to their teams and while they can accept defeat with a shrug of the shoulders, they simply hate to be cheated. On the third day of the second round robin of the Louis Vuitton Pacific Series they were definitely cheated.

Crowds of locals had gathered on Auckland’s North Head to watch what had been billed as the “Match of the Day,” the face-off between the local boys in Emirates Team New Zealand against their rivals in the last two America’s Cups, Alinghi. Entire families, from great-grandmothers to small children gathered with their picnics to watch this great re-match, eager to see Dean Barker work his particular brand of magic over Brad Butterworth, the one-time Kiwi who left home to increase his bank balance.

But those sports fans were cheated. Alinghi failed to show. When the reason for this was learned, there were howls of derision as the lo9cal team sailed around the course alone. The normally urbane Barker declared in a television interview that he was “pissed off” and that it was ’disgusting”. He was echoing the thoughts of the majority of his countrymen and went further by saying that it was "insulting and disrespectful."

Butterworth may well need the bodyguard that is permanently attached to him. His popularity in New Zealand, once extremely high when, with Russell Coutts, he won the America’s Cup as tactician of Team New Zealand, has plummeted to an all-time low, lower even than when he first joined Alinghi. There was bitter hatred then, as evidenced by the Black Heart campaign and there were even death threats to his and other former members of the home team that had been seduced by the promise of large purses of Swiss francs.

The whole thing arose through Alinghi’s careful reading of the rules, which state that no points are awarded in races with Emirates Team New Zealand, except as a penalty for a hard contact, as the home team has a bye to the final. Alinghi, realizing that it could lose points, opted to sit the race out, causing great disappointment to all the spectators.

“We are here to win the regatta,” explained Brad Butterworth in a radio interview the following morning, “we have read the rules and are not taking any risk.” Pity, it could, and undoubtedly would, have been a cracker of a race, one that might not happen during the course of this regatta if the other teams have their way. Bob Fisher.