So, Ngati Tuwharetoa want to charge Ironman NZ for the privilege of holding an event on Tuwharetoa land.
Cue the usual rightwingers-who-would-normally-defend-property-rights-to-the-death suddenly whinging that some natural landscapes and features should belong to ~the community~ (not-subtext: “and not those greedy brown people”).
Property rights are always sanctified when possessed and exercised by the right sort of people – read non-Maori. Where Maori are attempting to protect and exercise their property rights the goal posts are shifted. Property rights are great, but you Maori must make exceptions for sporting events, fishing competitions and anything else we decide. Apparently, property rights enjoy a shifting definition.
The answer – and we can all see this coming – is racism.
But another aspect which I want to highlight is the sports-as-religion aspect.
All the criticisms of this which I’ve seen have said “oh well if it were a commercial operation, of course we wouldn’t have a problem with the landowners charging a fee, but this is different.”
Newsflash: It’s not.
Ironman New Zealand is as much a commercial venture as a jet-ski hire business would be. The entry fee – if you get an early-bird registration – is $785 per entrant. Apparently an extra $40 a head makes this totally untenable, if you go by this Dominion Post story which just happens to not mention the former figure.
But somehow, in the Kiwi psyche, it’s different because we like to pretend that sport is all about the love of the game and the pinnacle of human physiology and, well, sportsmanship. We really, really love to close our eyes to the notion that professional sports are professional. That sport is a career choice (note: generally if you are a dude, less so if you’re a team of multiple-world-champion women). That sporting bodies are, frankly, in it for the money.
We see this every single time the NZRFU tries to whip up nationalistic fervor for the All Blacks (usually with a degree of success, because a lot of people still buy this bullshit). Suddenly it’s all about Our Boys In Black.
It’s the reason our news media spins every story of Dan-Carter-signs-with-provincial-French-team as a Great Betrayal Of The Nation, as though Dan Carter is bussing tables in Ponsonby in the off-season and plays purely for The Love of The Game. (I have no doubt Dan Carter loves rugby, I just think he may also love a big juicy paycheck, like most of us do.)
The racism against Maaori in this story works especially well because it plays on this meme. Because it means that Ngati Tuwharetoa aren’t just greedy bastards, they’re greedy bastards who aren’t going along with patriotic sports culture. It emphasises the idea that Maaori aren’t “Kiwis”, aren’t like us, aren’t part of our society, aren’t playing their part.
All I can suggest is that if Ironman have an issue with paying Maaori landowners for use of their land, they could try hosting the event on Gibbs Farm for free. Because apparently the right would be totally okay with that.