HARD NEWS 29/9/00 - Here Comes the Sun

Published: Fri 29 Sep 2000 01:49 PM
Approved: hardnews.kiwifruit
Subject: HARD NEWS 29/9/00 - Here Comes the Sun
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GOOD DAY MEDIAPHILES - Funny how things change, isn't it? Not so long ago, the New Zealand Herald, in an editorial headed 'Mark Todd owes us all an explanation' had predicted shame and vileness if Todd so much as showed his face in Sydney. Go now, and save us all, it ordered.
But what happens the morning after Toddy snares the country's first Olympic medal from Sydney? The Herald is frothing all over the front page with a lead story headed 'Kiwi spirits soar with Todd bronze'. Spare me.
The shifting moods of Auckland's favourite paper were in evidence again this week when the Herald ran an editorial headed 'Time to look up at our bright horizon'. Cheer up, everybody, it said. Even if you don't like the government's policies, "they could be much worse. It's not the end of the world and there is no point in the corporate community continuing to depress itself."
"Private sector leadership, including the role that this newspaper can play, will be the key to a positive turnaround," the editorial continued. Right. Is this really the paper that beat up a business confidence survey into the infamous 'Economy in nosedive' front page? Still, the advent of some sense must be welcomed. You have to wonder if the paper's proprietor, Tony O'Reilly, has had a word in the ear along the lines of "Snap out of it. Oh, and make some money while you're at it. You're a monopoly, for God's sake."
Even if the Herald's sunny new disposition lasts, it may be a struggle getting the "corporate community" to get with the programme. The Employers' Federation's incredible effort in looking down its nose at an average 28% reduction in employer premiums from the new, renationalised ACC this week was evidence of that. It's not sustainable, bleated the employers. And what sort of muppet thought last year's loss-leading private premiums were the last word? Jesus, these people really have a problem.
But back to the Herald, where, as is often the case, the troops have been doing fine work while the generals run round in circles. The paper's coverage of the Olympics, both offline and online, has been classy. It's hard to imagine the Herald of five years ago doing anything like it.
The Games are, of course, an even better story for television. They've been dramatic, emotional and attractive TV, never more than in the coverage of Cathy Freeman's win in the 400 metres. Whether we deserved it or not, the cameras gave us all extraordinary public access into her private moment.
Sport is only sport, and in and of itself, a running race doesn't matter much at all. But the symbolism of that race became a crushing weight - and with the lifting, Australians went mad. But the enthusiasm with which some white Australians rushed to declare the aboriginal girl "one of us" betrayed an interesting sense of who is welcoming whom.
It remains to be seen whether Freeman's run will bring enduring progress on Australia's race problems. But it did more damage to John Howard than all the protests, all the street theatre, all the sharp Parliamentary questions.
Howard, staggeringly, wasn't even at the venue to see Freeman run. When he was asked whether he'd considered Freeman's criticism of him and his party's gutless position on aboriginals, he could only weakly plead that bringing politics into it would only spoil things.
Speaking of John Howard, what on earth does Jenny Shipley think she's playing at? First she accepts a frankly inappropriate freebie to the Olympics from Air New Zealand, then she emerges from a private meeting with Howard telling everyone what her friend the Prime Minister of Australia thinks.
According to Shipley, Howard told her he wasn't interested in currency union and that he was regarded New Zealand's defence spending priorities as a breach of trust and that he was concerned over the current overstayer amnesty.
Now, I don't give a rat's fanger - as Roy and HG would say - whether Howard said anything of the kind. It was not for Jenny Shipley to issue press releases announcing Australian government policy in advance of a meeting between the Prime Ministers of our countries.
The woman is an embarrassment, a diplomatic bumpkin. Were it not for the woeful lack of leadership talent in her party she'd be down the road already. Judging by the increased frequency of public statements emerging lately from Bill English, his long, slow run has begun.
Said long, slow run might indeed be symbolic of our athletes' performance in Sydney. It wasn't so much the paucity of medals won - which isn't out of line with history - as the way so many of our medal contenders just went belly-up. What happened to our ability to sail anything bigger than a surfboard?
The list is too long to tarry over, but there can't have been a bigger blow-up than the hockey women. They only had to beat Argentina - which they did two out of three a few weeks ago - to play for the gold medal. Instead they got a 7-1 thrashing.
But it is a funny game, hockey. As Jan Borren said, it doesn't reward endeavour. I might add that, for a low-scoring game, it appears to leave way to much room for random decision-making by umpires. The disallowed goal against the Dutch was topped only by the bizarre call that cost the stick chicks the win against Spain with 30 seconds to go. How on earth can you be called for time-wasting in the act of playing the ball?
In the end, as we have in the past, we've had to content ourselves with one outstanding individual. Rob Waddell is clearly the best in the world at what he does. If what he does happens to be single-sculling rather than something glamorous on the track, then so be it.
The Australians, having invested nearly a billion dollars in developing their athletes - not to mention importing them from Russia and Germany - can have the glamour. There are few New Zealanders who believe we ought to spend that kind of money - or even that we have it to spend.
Alison Roe being a notable exception. One of our greatest distance runners is also one of our greatest morons, going on her appearance on Sports Cafe this week. The government should haul money out of education and welfare and put it into sports, she said. Oh right - children learning and eating isn't nearly as important as developing elite athletes.
The Olympic experience may have left us with a national feeling that we just can't get anything right at the moment. It's not economic - the Europeans have been watching their currencies go soft and mushy and they're flush with medals. It's not the government - Tony Blair's in terrible strife, but the Brits have had their best games in decades.
I wonder if half the problem is that we are stuck in that time of year where we're waiting for summer to start. Aucklanders know that there is a couple of months of drizzle to come before that happens. The Australians, with the sense of mission they've shown over it everything, effectively brought their summer forward - declaring a special Olympic version of daylight saving time. Nature largely obliged.
In a world where the bloody Danes voting against joining the Euro will probably send our dollar down again, we could do worse than to just summon the summer. Without meaning to sound unduly positive - we can't have that, can we? - I've been dealing with afew small companies who are just getting on with it and doing the most exciting thing a small business can do: exporting. Perhaps the business lobby could take a tip or two.
And, to conclude, the part of Hard News where I tell you what to buy. Call me a capitalist and subject me to street theatre, but I like it. And I urge you to purchase 'The Golden Hits of Daphne Walker with George Tumahai and Bill Sevesi and his Islanders'. Viking Records might only have been finally moved to do it because Air New Zealand licensed 'Haere Mai' for an ad campaign, but it's well overdue and at a mere 22 bucks, it's a stone cold cultural bargain. Get one for your Mum, too - G'bye!

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