Listener: 3 September, 2011.
Keywords: Growth & Innovation;
Does New Zealand deserve the Rugby World Cup? No, I am not concerned about who wins it; I hope the best team wins, and you know who that is. But do we deserve to be hosts?
Compare our feeble efforts with other big tournaments whose hosts deliberately use it to leave a legacy. The Brits are redeveloping the East End of London for the 2012 Olympic Games; Australia upgraded its urban motorway system for the 2000 Olympics; the Chinese extended their infrastructure, too, for the 2008 Beijing Olympics, and trained citizens to speak English. The Brazilians are doing the same for their 2015 Football World Cup and 2016 Olympics.
And us? Stadiums don’t count. All these countries improved their stadiums, too. Admittedly Dunedin has near bankrupted itself to do its bit, but Wellington has done absolutely nothing. The city fathers and mothers could have installed a light rail connecting Wellington’s stadium to its “West End” (except Courtenay Place is to the east).
In Auckland, people are crying out for a decent public transport connection between the airport and Britomat. Some progress has been made on the Wynyard Quarter on Auckland’s waterfront, but like the Viaduct Basin development for the America’s Cup, that is a result of private and local government money. All Aucklanders are getting from central government is some temporary sheds and a plastic waka.
The Government has sunk a lot of funds into the tournament, but what has the taxpayer got? Apparently a third are keen enough on rugby to be grateful for the contribution from the rest, and a third have a mild interest. That leaves a third who are simply not turned on; they are getting nothing, not even a bit of infrastructure.
So, although we may have proved we can organise a piss-up in a brewery, can we organise the brewery? This inability is not peculiarly a sporting failure. New Zealand is going to be the Country of Honour at the 2012 Frankfurt Book Fair (the world’s largest). Although we shan’t be spending as much on it as on the Rugby World Cup, will anything permanent come out of it?
And don’t talk about the “intangibles”; when there’s nothing else, the desperate justification is to claim an increase in the nation’s international prominence, which – so they tell us – increases tourism. They said that to justify public funding for the Rugby World Cup, The Lord of the Rings, the America’s Cup, the Prime Minister on The Late Show with David Letterman, and much else. If the claims were true, we would be overrun by tourists; perhaps they get to Auckland’s airport, take a look at the dreadful link to the city and fly on to Sydney.
Same with the Book Fair. Does its 2011 Country of Honour leap to mind or the 2010 one (Iceland and Argentina, in case you’re interested), let alone the 25-odd countries and regions before them?
Its is not that temporary events are the problem. Rather we are failing to use them to create a permanent legacy. Taxpayers’ money is poured in, all sorts of esteemed and important people attend (I bet some who end up in our Frankfurt pavilion hardly read books), lucky taxpayers have glimpses on TV or in the papers, but afterwards all we have is the hangover and nothing of substance for our investment.
We are developing a national culture of bread and circuses (except most taxpayers cannot afford to be in the stadiums). What message are we giving our young? That instead of being a reward for success, parties are a substitute for it? We are not unique, the examples that come to mind – Greece, Iceland, Ireland, Italy – did not pay attention to the fundamentals of how to pay for their circuses, either. As they went from party to party, borrowing seemed a perfectly satisfactory means of payment. Now the borrowing has run out, and the barbarians are at their gates.
We have the Cricket World Cup in 2015 (shared with Australia). Please, please, could we use the opportunity to build decent connections with the Auckland airport and the Wellington stadium? Or is that too much to ask of the party people?