Russell Brown's HARD NEWS

21st June 2002 - A Sporting Chance

Copyright © 2002 Russell Brown

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Auckland's alright, you know. I mean, how many other cities that have been namechecked by Wallpaper magazine have a volcano contingency plan?

We do now, which is a good thing because at some point the 360 square kilometre volcanic field where we live is going to sprout another cone - like some slow, giant, primeval game of whack-a-mole. There is a five per cent chance of it happening in the next 50 years, most or all of which I hope to be alive for.

What we know is that it won't be at the site of any of the existing cones - which must make living in Mt Roskill that little bit more bearable. But for the rest of us, it's there goes the neighbourhood for a three kilometre radius; blocked motorways, mud everywhere and probably no more touring drum and bass DJs for ages.

But that's nothing compared to Taupo - which is the kind of volcano that sits for a millennium or two then goes BOOM. At which point the hole in the middle of the country gets a lot bigger and we probably cease to become an economy. We're talking six feet of ash in Auckland. It has erupted 28 times in the past 25,600 years. The last eruption was 181AD. Well, are you feeling lucky punk?

Is there any other nation that lives its life under nature's guillotine the way we do? It must surely contribute to the national inclination to just get on with things. Or the national predilection for getting a bit out of it. Why stay straight when the world's most active volcano of its kind might blow us all up tomorrow?

Then again, there's nothing wrong with being a bit in thrall of nature. After an interminable spell in winter's waiting room we now have snow in the South Island and muscular weather in the north. A "weather bomb", no less. Just so long as it eases up by Saturday evening. I would like to remind the relevant deities that I will be on the terraces at Eden Park.

Ah, sport. I'm struck by how much more important the World Cup now is now than the Olympic Games. Once, it was the American medal tally versus the Soviets'. Now, the drama of nations rests with the beautiful game.

The English are off on one of their increasingly frequent national jags - still going since the jubilee thing, really. The pubs are open for breakfast-time games and England have already exceeded expectations. Why not have another pint?

Their team might have been designed for media madness. The captain is a world leader in hairstyles and married to Posh Spice, who is famous for being famous. Their coach is a Swede who reads Tibetan poetry and shags middle-aged stunners two at a time. They call him Sven - because that it his name.

The Koreans, conservative in some respects, but never shy about acting out in public, have gone mental. The Japanese will, inevitably, be jealous at Korea progressing one more unlikely stage than them, but will doubtless transfer their considerable national ambition to the person of David Beckham. They may even look at their zero per cent interest rates and start spending some money. Such a revival in consumer confidence would be good for the yen, which would be bad for the US dollar, which would be good for our dollar but bad for our exports. On the other hand whatever.

The Italians, beaten by Korea, have packed a sad of operatic proportions, with Korea's golden goal scorer fired by his Italian club for "ruining" Italian football. Newspapers are accusing Fifa of fixing the result in front-page editorials. If it's bad in some way for their bastard president, I'm all for it.

The Argentines appear have greeted the exit of about the last thing they had to feel optimistic about with a national numbness. Everything is wrong for them. You would hope it couldn't get any worse, but it probably will.

Middle America may actually be noticing that its soccer team is doing remarkably well in the World Cup. Football is interesting there, because it is the herald of great national change; of a coming majority that speaks Spanish as at least one of its languages and is neither physically suited or emotionally inclined to grid-iron or basketball. They could win the World Cup one day. Will it internationalise the Americans if they turn away from sports with World Series in which only their own teams play? It's not as silly as it sounds.

Here, apart from one great, glorious exception, the game has specialised in own goals. I mean, there's a masochistic streak in football fandom, but the Football Kingz are a little too tragic even for that. Perhaps, like the Warriors, they'll get it together. Or perhaps, with top rugby now beyond any normal, working individual's reach, football will just be our social sport. Which reminds me: bFM vs Flying Nun - it's on again. They shall not pass. So to speak ...

For now, the sports public rightly sticks with a game in which we're actually in the world elite. Or not, on the evidence of last Saturday at Carisbrook.

The national indulgence for the All Blacks being almost entirely staffed by the Canterbury Crusaders was only ever going to be contingent on performance. And they did not perform against Ireland

The forwards lacked physical presence and the backs lacked composure. They all lacked technique. They were as gruesome as the way Michele Boag is running the National Party, only not as flashy. But they, at least, won.

John Mitchell's response to this lamentable performance has been to dismiss almost everyone who doesn't play for Canterbury from his playing squad - including Tana Umaga, Kees Meeuws and Christian Cullen - and leave Doug Howlett, who took his one chance brilliantly last weekend, on the bench, so he can start 14 Canterbury players, one more than last week.

They had better bloody be good is all I can say. I am attending the game with a large number of Irish people, and they will need no encouragement.

I was trying to avoid politics this week, but the actions John Banks and his horrible CitRat mates on the Auckland City Council cannot pass without mention. The airport sale I could live with, to fund other public assets - but they've already been advised they're selling at the wrong time. The sale of the pensioner housing is just scurrilous.

The worst of it is that this is the first time anyone in Auckland has had a chance to formally express a view on the pensioner housing sale - it was never mentioned by Banks during his election campaign and specifically ruled out by the CitRats. It was only a last-minute law change by the government that forced them to consult with the public at all. And, thanks to Wake Up Auckland, there have been 7000 public submissions opposing it, all ignored. If you ever wanted a way to destroy public faith in the democratic process, this is it.

Right: don't forget the GM Wire, 12-2pm next Thursday - we'll have Marian Hobbs and Jeanette Fitzsimons and quite a few other people. Just don't call it a debate. They are a particularly arid form of radio.

And don't forget, music lovers, that the Sideways Allstars play the Regent tonight and tomorrow there's Popcorn at Galatos, the Solstice Dub show at the Sawmill and Hip at the Temple. You know you want to go out after the game


Russell Brown

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