Opinion: Joseph Parker fight deserves public money

  • 06/11/2016
Joseph Parker (Getty)
Joseph Parker (Getty)

By Mike Angove

If you're one of the politicians who blocked funding to hold Joseph Parker's WBO title fight in Auckland, and sidle up to him post bout for a publicity shot, feel free to bugger off.

That's if, and it's now a mighty big if, Duco manages to pull off a miracle and stages the globally televised event in Auckland on December 10.

Top Rank CEO Bob Arum's announcement on Thursday the event would go ahead in New Zealand now seems premature, after Friday's revelation that ATEED (Auckland Tourism, Events and Economic Development) has pulled its funding.

Given that ATEED CEO Brett O'Riley made repeated positive statements about supporting the event up until Thursday morning, it seems almost certain Auckland's newly elected council - with Phil Goff at the helm - has brought pressure to bear in swift fashion.

The bout has become a political football since Duco enquired into Government funding from New Zealand Major Events. And boy, the political turf hackers have come out in force.

Howick Councillor Dick Quax questioned whether the WBO bout was a proper title fight. He also questioned the event's tourism benefits, asking: "Did anyone go to Zaire following the rumble in the jungle between George Foreman and Muhammad Ali?"

Mr Quax clearly needs to get out of Howick more. Although the WBO is the youngest of the four major sanctioning bodies, its past champions include Riddick Bowe, Michael Moorer, Vitali Klitschko, Tyson Fury and Wladimir Klitschko - a pretty decent roster if you ask me.

The comparison with Zaire is ridiculous. At the time of the Foreman-Ali fight, the country was a single-party state run by a brutal dictator. New Zealand is a stable democracy, where tourism is our second-largest export industry and fiscal accountability is the norm.

No More Rates campaigner David Thornton also came out against ATEED's support, citing the Auckland Regional Council's disastrous 2009 $1.79 million loss hosting David Beckham's LA Galaxy football team Mt Smart appearance.

Unfortunately Thornton has not included contextual facts, which would take the steam out of his political sound bite.

The Beckham fiasco was the council's first - and last - foray into event promotion. By contrast, Duco has run successful events across a range of sectors since 2004, providing jobs and contributing to the local economy.

Also remember Duco CEO Martin Snedden was CEO of the hugely successful 2011 Rugby World Cup and CEO of New Zealand Cricket. He helped New Zealand and Australia win the right to host the 2015 Cricket World Cup. Duco's legacy is one of long-term commercial success.

Other objections have centred on boxing's "brutal nature", with one political journalist equating funding a world boxing title with glamorising violence and taking money from homeless families.

But both ATEED and Major Events New Zealand funding come from money allocated to economic development, both regionally or nationally. These funds aren't taking food or shelter from those most in need. As a trainer who works in areas where poverty and violence is rife, I can personally attest to the positive values boxing training can offer.

Granted, boxing is a primal and at times brutal sport, and not to everyone's taste. But given the massive interest bouts of a similar calibre have generated in New Zealand (David Tua's title shot with Lennox Lewis 16 years ago attracted 1.9 million viewers and Tua Cameron's 2009 'Fight of the Century' garnered a record 85 thousand PPV customers) it's clear a huge number of constituents are watching.

It would be a mistake to fall for the deceptive line that Government money shouldn't be used for funding commercial ventures. Entrenched middle-class sports such as golf, tennis and yachting all enjoy Government largesse.

Do these sports really need commercial prop-up? The BMW NZ Open, Emirates Team NZ, ASB Classic and Heineken Open all enjoy substantial corporate sponsorship. Their returns to the economy are often questionable. Why are politicians not applying the same level of scrutiny to these events?

Finally, let's not forget that Mr Goff was keen to make an in-ring appearance while in campaign mode at Parker's most recent fight. A number of notable politicians also enjoyed the spectacle - in some cases they were clamouring to get a photo with the champ.

Fast-forward five weeks, and political expedience appears to have kicked in. It seems that everybody loves the champ and wants to share in his success but not enough to give this potentially historic event enough support to get across the line.

New Zealand politicians - give yourselves an upper-cut.

Since 2011, ATEED-sponsored major events have contributed $247 million to the regional economy, including 1.548 million visitor nights.

Funding criteria: Expand Auckland's economy, grow visitor nights, enhance Auckland's viability, increase international exposure for Auckland.

Mike Angove is a former world kickboxing champion and Sky Sports expert boxing analyst.

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