Monday, April 02, 2007

“Ward, don’t you think you’re being a bit hard on the Beaver?”

October 2, 2006

beaver cleaver

Dylan Cleaver has penis envy.

Cleaver is a sports columnist for the New Zealand Herald. To read Dylan Cleaver, there's nothing in New Zealand that can't be shat upon without referral to the superiority of the United States.

Yesterday Cleaver penned a cynical and naive column titled "After shabby service, we deserve citadel of dreams." The gyst of Cleaver's commentary is a sob story that New Zealand doesn't have a national stadium that he can show-off to the rest of the planet, bemoaning "100 years" of sub-standard "third-world stadiums."

Beaver Cleaver insists:

New Zealand needs more than a stadium in time for 2011 - it needs a symbol. [...]

A stadium can be a source of pride; or it can be a focal point; an enduring symbol of a city that moves it beyond a prosaic lumping of girders and cement.

As just one example, this is a passage from a Boston tourism consultancy report in 1999: "Fenway Park is one of the most historic, beloved, and revered ballparks in the nation. [Statistics] indicate that Fenway Park attracts more visitors to Boston than any other single attraction." The ballpark and the city had become inextricably linked.

It happens everywhere, seemingly, except New Zealand.

Got that...? Fenway Park happens everywhere. Except New Zealand. Never mind that the Boston Red Sox sell-out 81 home games per year with a capacity of 38,800. The Cake Tin would have to sell-out a combined ninety Hurricanes, Lions and All Black test matches per year to be as big an attraction. (Is Cleaver aware that many American cities and states have populations that dwarf the entire population of New Zealand?)

Beav' continues...

[W]e have never had a place of congregation that we can be as proud of. Eden Park in its current and previous guises is an ugly misshapen hotchpotch of a ground.

The irony is lost on Cleaver. An "ugly misshapen hotchpotch of a ground" is a perfect description for Fenway Park, the "enduring symbol" of Boston that Cleaver proudly deifies. Has Cleaver even seen the "Green Monster"? The short porchs of "Williamsburg" and "Pesky's Pole"? The assinine mess that is the "Triangle"? The garage door in the left field corner? If he had, he'd know that ugly misshapen hotchpotch (what others here might call "hodgepodge") of Fenway Park is an intrinisic part of that stadium's charm and character. The “hotchpotch” characteristics of this so-called “enduring symbol” is pure sentiment and nostalgia. That’s why it is “beloved and revered” and a big reason why New Englanders refuse to let go of their old ballpark, despite it having one of the lowest seating capacities of any MLB stadia in America.

If Cleaver could listen to the clear-channel WBZ, perhaps he'd grasp another irony, namely, that one of the big reasons why Bostonians don't want the wrecking ball swinging at Fenway and waste hundreds-of-millions of dollars building a shiny new baseball stadium is because that city's residents have already had a gutsful bankrolling one MASSIVE public works project ("The Big Dig" -- estimated at $2.5 billion in 1985, the cost has since soared over $14.6 billion in federal and state tax dollars) and would prefer their money be spent on things like new hospitals and fighting heart disease. Clearly, Beav' has no idea about Bostonians real concerns and priorities. If you want an "enduring symbol," find a cure for cancer.

Cleaver obviously doesn't have much problem with average Kiwi tax-payers footing a billion dollars to finance his "citadel of dreams." If he had any sense of reality, he'd know development enterprises (like the Big Dig) always come to the table with lowball figures and ribbons, and inevitably go way over budget. It's simple reality. Beaver should to talk to Quebec rate-payers about how much they love paying for the white elephant known as "The Big O" (Montreal Olympic Stadium) for decades. Beav' should talk to Ontario rate-payers about how delighted they were getting the shaft on the world famous "enduring symbol" that is the SkyDome (now Rogers Center) in Toronto.

Cleaver makes other points that simply make no sense.

He has a fetish for Fenway Park and seems to not understand it has a capacity far lower than virtually every other stadium in North America. (Would the IRB accept a RWC final played in a stadium of 38,800 people? Please.)

He seems oblivious to the fact that other "enduring symbols" in the United States (classic stadiums like Tiger Stadium in Detroit, Cleveland Municipal Stadium, and many more) are all falling to the wrecking ball. In most instances, owners of professional sports franchises in the United States demand new stadiums; they expect their cities/counties/states to bankroll their private pleasure palaces; they hold cities hostage with threats to take their team elsewhere if they don't meet their demands; and why...? Because the owners want new tax-free stadiums with the prime seating offered to huge corporate luxury boxes so that said owner can make greater profits and keep the white collar VIPs away from the hoi polloi who are financing the "citadel of dreams." It's a bogus scam that North Americans have grown increasingly weary the past 20 years.

Cleaver cluelessly exalts:

When Babe Ruth died it was only natural for his body to lie in repose at Yankee Stadium - or The House That Ruth Built - while 200,000 mourners filed past.

Cleaver seems wilfully ignorant about several points here.

One, Yankee Stadium is a national institution because it is the home park of the most decorated and successful sports franchise in American history.

Two, the Yankees play in New York City, which I would hazard to guess draws local fans from an area that has a population five times bigger than New Zealand's entire population, and I suspect NYC's greater population lives in a significantly smaller and concentrated area. What Cleaver is doing comparing Yankee Stadium to any other stadium in the world, let alone New Zealand, is hyperbolic absurdity.

Three, the Yankees have only ONE home field, since they represent not a whole nation, but a single city.

And four, George Steinbrenner, owner of the Yankees, is forever threatening to tear down Yankee Stadium to build a new one with brand new spanking luxury boxes to line his pockets. Sentiment, be damned. An "enduring symbol"...? Like Steinbrenner gives a shit.

What Cleaver seems to be advocating here is that the All Blacks -- a team that represents ALL New Zealanders -- makes ONE stadium home, the way England does at Twickers or Wales does at Millenium Stadium.

This to me seems a foolish idea. As I say, the All Blacks are the team of ALL New Zealanders, not just big city Auckland fashionistas. Cleaver doesn't appreciate the upside to test matches in SANZAR nations where the host nations rotate test matches between their respective hot-beds of rugby and share the wealth instead of centralizing it to a single mass population headquarter. The latter would be one more nail in the coffin of grass-roots NZ rugby.

Now, it may certainly be true that New Zealand might require more than a significant upgrade to Eden Park, and perhaps will construct an entirely new stadium for the 2011 RWC final. But Dylan Cleaver is talking out of his ass. I have spent time in most of the major stadiums in New Zealand as well as the North American stadiums (present and past) mentioned above, and I can tell you his comment about "third world stadiums" is a gross distortion of reality.

If Kiwis are going to pull money out of their pockets and build a new stadium and continue to pay for it for another decade, I would make one small suggestion that Cleaver doesn't even touch, namely, build a dedicated rugby stadium. The main problem with big stadiums in NZ is that they try to serve two masters: rugby and cricket. Rugby is always the loser in that compromise because its' field dimensions are significantly smaller, like putting a basketball court on a soccer field. A cricket pitch keeps rugby spectators too far away from the action. If a new stadium is going to be built, they should make it a dedicated rugby stadium, with the grandstands right up against the sidelines. It makes for a better atmosphere in the stadium and on television sets. Cricket can always be played in the stadiums that already exist in New Zealand (Eden Park, Westpac, Jade, Carisbrook).

If a new stadium is to be built for 2011 RWC, the primary focus for New Zealanders should be the development of a proper rugby stadium that is good for rugby and makes proper financial sense. Constructing a monumental turd simply to assuage nagging insecurity of media hacks transfixed by "enduring symbols" on the other hand, is a recipe for disaster that could linger decades beyond 2011. Dylan Cleaver is selling snake oil and not telling his readers the whole story.

Besides; it's not the quality of New Zealand stadia that the rest of the world is going to sit up and take notice. It'll be the quality and performance of the national rugby team -- the All Blacks. And kiwis everywhere can be immensely proud of that team. Their legacy is an enduring symbol that no stadium anywhere can replace.


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