It might seem like New Zealand didn’t top the medal table at the 2018 Commonwealth Games, but actually, we were the real winners. Alex Braae explains how.
It is tough being the small player on the world stage. New Zealand, by any measure, is tiny. Some would argue that it’s bred a cultural desire for international recognition, that a New Zealander only really makes it if they do so on the world stage. Some say we desperately search for ways to measure our success, for some tiny peg in which to hang our inferiority complex on full display.
But forget all of that, because now, we’re the best. We have won in the three most important areas of the competition, on the biggest sporting stage in the world, the Commonwealth Games. No barrel-scraping is needed, because here is the measurement of our greatness.
By dominating the only sport that matters
Throughout this fair land of ours, there is one sport in which all of our people carry a great, deep yearning for from childhood. People talk about rugby as our national game. Or how the country unites around the America’s Cup. Or how summer is defined by cricket. Or how more kids play football than any other sport. It’s all surface level nonsense. The people of New Zealand dream deeply of just one sport. And that sport is squash.
The bored children of New Zealand know that if they could just find a wall and a small ball, they would be entertained for hours. They don’t even need racquets for it to seed a meditative passion deep in the psyche, such is the draw of the calming effects of repeatedly bouncing a ball against the walls, again, and again, for what at times seems like forever. As we progress into adulthood, we squeeze stress-balls and bounce on Swiss balls, without knowing about the criminally under-covered sport of squash. Devotees who have been initiated into the squash cult are furtive, at once jealously guarding their inner sporting sanctum, but also craving the wide public recognition afforded to low-brow pursuits, like tennis.
And then came the Commonwealth Games. Two golds. One silver. One bronze. A haul of glory the likes of which this country has never seen before, and may never see again. And most importantly by far, top spot on the squash medal table. By achieving this, we showed our ability to tap into deep emotional yearnings was unmatched. This was the moment, when the nation would truly see the sport they had ignored for so long for what it is. That squash had been inside them all along. As Joelle King pulled away to win gold, squash club membership secretaries braced themselves. They prayed that they would live through the night, fielding thousands of urgent calls from people desperate to play. This was the moment.
Unfortunately the moment was never realised because TVNZ cut away to boxing.
Medal count, divided by ranking on the 2017 Transparency International Corruption Perception Index
Here, New Zealand blows the rest of the dodgy Commonwealth out of the water. Taking New Zealand’s 2017 ranking – a rare number 1 for our nation – our 2018 Commonwealth medal count doesn’t change. But look at the corrupt Canadians in eighth place. Their medal tally sinks to around 10, fitting for a nation which hides shady dealings behind unfailing politeness.
And if you want to see a true disgrace, the ball-tampering Australians are a lowly 11th on the index. It’s a staggeringly bad score, and brings their medal count down to its true value of 18 medals. And of those medals that they’re allowed to keep, how do we know they were obtained fairly? I mean, is it not a little bit suspicious that their bowls team did so well?
Integrity in sport has never been in the spotlight so much, and New Zealanders are leading the charge. From Mark Hunt suing the UFC for putting him up against a juiced Brock Lesnar, to the still-continuing gripes about the underarm delivery, we know that we never cheat, and the rest of the world always cheats. And that makes us the best type of winner – the moral winner.
Silver Medals multiplied by US Dollar value of milk exports in 2016
We love silver medals in New Zealand. An honourable second place and a warm handshake with the winner is what drives New Zealand’s sporting narrative. Our cyclists love silver medals so much, they picked up 9 of them on the Gold Coast, out of 17 medals overall. To be among the company of greatness is truly the highest honour, like when Barack Obama came to New Zealand to play off in a qualifying leg for the Davos 2019 Elite Golf Masters. It didn’t matter to us that our competitor, Sir John Key, was so clearly Obama’s inferior in every way.
And what about the other side of this equation? Milk is protein. Milk is calcium. Milk is a useful component of any gym rat’s bulking phase. Milk, in short, is the golden elixir of athleticism. Why else would New Zealand’s athletes be so keen to endorse it?
And we give that gift to the world, to the tune of US $4.4 billion, as of 2016, which was notably also an Olympic year. And I think you’ll find the rest of the world did pretty well at the last Olympics. World, you’re welcome.
So what do the two have in common? Dairy is the silver medal ingredient to all great meals. Take the humble potato gratin. Perfect when all the components are in place. Potato is the obvious gold medal ingredient here, it’s in the name. But without the dairy to complement and illustrate the achievements of the dish, it would be merely potatoes.
That’s who we are as a nation, in all fields. Diplomacy. Entertainment. Military. Urban design. Environmental protection. And sport. We are the world’s comparison for scale, so they can see how big they are. Our wholehearted embrace of not being in first place gives ever greater glory to those who need to feed their egos with gold. That selflessness, of giving up our most precious commodity, of never winning when it can be avoided, is what makes us truly the greatest nation in the world.
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The Bulletin is The Spinoff’s acclaimed daily digest of New Zealand’s most important stories, delivered directly to your inbox each morning.