A lot of New Zealanders are still in mourning today. A sort of private-public forlornness has been hanging in the air since yesterday morning, when Emirates Team New Zealand was beaten 9–8 by Oracle in the America’s Cup. New Zealand is country that is bound together by sports-related joy and misery, or at least that’s what it appears like to me, and this belief is backed up by our Te Ara story on Sport and the nation.
I have to confess, though, I’m not a follower of sport, especially not in that obsessive, strong-feeling sort of way. But I kind of get it. It’s exciting to be following a team or sportsperson, feeling your emotions go up and down as their fortunes do. The tension, the anguish, the joy – if they win – or otherwise the misery. It seems to be it’s a lot like falling in love and having your heartbroken over and over. And New Zealand sports followers have a lot of opportunity for heartbreak. Especially, I’m told, if they’re following the New Zealand men’s cricket team.
The big sport in New Zealand is, of course, rugby. More specifically, it’s men’s top-level rugby. The All Blacks have given this country more than its fair share of heartbreak, especially when it comes to the world cup. After a win in the first Rugby World Cup in 1987, New Zealand endured 24 years of losing until 2011, despite generally being the favourite to win. Right before the 2011 competition started a friend said to me very seriously that he didn’t think he could bear another loss. That if the All Blacks didn’t win that year, he would have to stop following rugby. He couldn’t do it to himself anymore; it hurt too much. Matters of the heart are always hard.
I hope you won’t throw me out of the country for being unpatriotic when I admit I didn’t actually watch the final of the 2011 Rugby World Cup (though I’m told it was a very painful experience). But as soon as it was over I knew straight away that the All Blacks had won because I could hear the screams of joy from inside my house. I went outside, down my path to where I can look out over the city and I just listened to all that happiness floating up. It sounded like the whole city was outside expressing their jubilation in the streets. But, mixed in with the triumph, I’m pretty sure I could detect a great deal of relief. A collective sigh of ‘thank god I haven’t just had my heart broken again’.
In this most recent heartbreak, we can find ways to assuage it. We can say, ‘Well, they just had more cash to throw at it.’ Or, ‘There were heaps of New Zealanders on the other boat anyway, so it’s almost like we won.’ Or, ‘Both of the boats were built in New Zealand anyway.’ And all of those are true, but they don’t change the result.
I have a suggestion though, for those of you who get your emotional highs from following sport but want to avoid too much heartbreak: switch to following women’s sport.
Personally, I think women’s sport is seriously undervalued in this country, with the possible exception of netball. And that’s not only a shame and perpetuates the idea that anything is only really important if a man does it, but it also means we’re losing opportunities to feel good about ourselves as a nation.
Just hours before victory was stolen from us on the water around San Francisco, the Football Ferns, the New Zealand women’s football team, beat China 4–0 to win the Valais Women’s Cup. I don’t know how important, or otherwise, that cup is, but during it the New Zealand team, which is only ranked 19th in the world, beat 4th-ranked Brazil – something no New Zealand team at any level has ever managed to do before.
Though, it sounds like the Football Ferns are just getting started on their winning streak. The teams to follow if you don’t want to get your heart broken are the Black Ferns rugby union team and the Kiwi Ferns rugby league team. Both teams have won their respective world cups every single time. (Update: ok, apparently not every single time – the Kiwi Ferns lost the final of this year’s cup, but three wins in a row is still an amazing record.) Were there street parades? If so, I missed them.
Then again, those teams are so good that perhaps a dedicated follower would miss those heart-stopping moments, where there’s a good chance of defeat and misery. Maybe happy contentment isn’t what a sports follower is looking for out of their obsession. For what is love without risk?