Hooray for the rugby world cup! The atmosphere in Auckland is fantastic, supporters from all sides are partying no matter the results and the ubiquitous car top flags fill the streets with colour. There's no doubt that it's a fun time to be in New Zealand, but what happens when it's over?
The other night over dinner an interesting point regarding the timing of the upcoming general election and the RWC was raised by our host. Yes, there is an election coming up. You may recall a few adverts and mail drops about it back in July, equally you may not. All mention of the election has been replaced by footage and articles about rugby matches, rugby players, rugby players wives, rugby fans and anyone in a rugby shirt or holding a rugby ball. The tsunami of RWC coverage has washed away any hope of proper political debate in the lead up to the general election and as the tournament progresses it will only get worse.
Flicking through Sundays newspaper a quick count puts RWC articles at 10 and election articles at 4, one about a poll awkwardly mixing rugby support and politics qualified as both. This count does not include stories from the 18 page renamed sports section, now called 'Rugby Heaven' that came with the paper. That is, no doubt reserved for repeats of the front page stories of the All Black's latest victory and pictures of Zara Phillips.
The press are understandably excited about rugby, there is no doubt it sells, and I would expect that National are pretty enthusiastic about it too (as Labour would be in the same position). A happy, distracted population gives a government little to worry about in an election year. A lesson learnt and well executed 2000 years ago by the Romans with their own, bloodier form of pre-election games.
Whilst an event that distracts an entire population is a good way of encouraging a smooth ride for the incumbent party there are some risks involved. What if something goes awry? With the Beehive taking control after Auckland Council's fumble on the opening night they have put themselves firmly in the firing line. To avoid getting shot they appear to be willing to spend their way out of any potential risk, a plan which looks likely to see them through the rest of the tournament relatively unscathed. At least until someone looks at the accounts. A worse scenario is, like an Emperor's prize Gladiator being defeated in the arena by a lesser opponent, the All Blacks don't win. With the nations hopes pinned on victory any goodwill will quickly fade and the predicted $39 million deficit will suddenly become a popular topic of conversation right before the election.
Even with this seemingly unlikely occurrence National will probably be safe this time around. A recent Gallup Poll puts them in a commanding lead with 61% of support and Labour don't look like much of a threat with Goff at the helm. It looks likely that we will have to wait another three years to assess the political repercussions of RWC 2011. What we can be sure of is that as long as there are silver ferns on the chests of the men raising the cup on October 23rd no one will care what happens on November 26th until it's far too late.