17 Dec 2021

Our wild, weird year in sport

From The Detail, 5:00 am on 17 December 2021
New Zealand's Lisa Carrington competes in a semi-final of the women's kayak single 500m event during the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games at Sea Forest Waterway in Tokyo on August 5, 2021. (Photo by Philip FONG / AFP)

Photo: AFP

2021 has been an unprecedented year in the world of sport.

(Of course, every year is technically unprecedented. But that’s neither here nor there). 

Following the devastating financial and moral effects brought on by the most acute COVID-19 measures, many sports returned to something approaching normality.

Crowds began to trickle back in. Revenues began to creep back up. Some organisations – most notably the NBA – found ingenious ways to get around problems which allowed matches to go ahead even in the throes of the pandemic.

On today’s episode of The Detail, Emile Donovan reflects on the year with RNZ’s Clay Wilson – from the Black Caps’ world test championship triumph to the long-overdue questions raised by the tragic death of Olivia Podmore; from the unique, also overdue Tokyo Olympics; to the fading fortunes of New Zealand’s rugby teams.

It started with a hiss and a roar, and New Zealand was at the centre of it: no tourists were allowed in, international media was limited, and it was far from the carnival-like atmosphere we’ve become accustomed to, but Team New Zealand’s victory in the America’s Cup was about more than just sailing.

A seal has secured one of the best seats in the house on a channel marker at the edge of the course.

A seal gets the best view of the America's Cup course from a channel marker on the Waitematā. Photo: RNZ / Katie Todd

“A lot of the eyes of the world were on New Zealand,” says Wilson.

“It was great we could have that, but also kind of bizarre in a way that we were the centre of attention. 

“What came with that, for me, was the lack of overseas visitors, which I think is a huge part of an event like the America’s Cup … (but) it really was one of the first major events that took place, and there were a lot of eyes on New Zealand for that.” 

The future hosting of the event is still uncertain, of course – though it’s looking increasingly unlikely the next iteration will be held in Auckland. One to keep an eye on in 2022, with the tentative deadline for a decision of March 31.

Another of New Zealand’s 2021 triumphs – and there were quite a few in the sporting world – came in Southampton.

The Black Caps continued their astonishing run of form by taking out the inaugural world test championship in a victory against India – a cricket-mad country with nearly 400 times New Zealand’s population.

Kane Williamson the New Zealand Blackcaps captain lifts the World Test Championship Mace surrounded by teammates at Southampton, England on Saturday 23rd June 2021.

Captain Kane with the mace. Photo: Photosport Ltd 2021

Wilson says the cricketers’ continued excellence is a perplexing delight to most New Zealand cricket fans over a certain age, who have become accustomed to dogged mediocrity from their national team.

“The history of the Black Caps … is not one that (gives) a lot of hope. To be in this position after a good four or five years of sustained success is still quite strange.”

He says the Black Caps’ genial personalities contribute to the joy they spread. 

“They’re some of the nicest people to deal with from a journalist’s perspective. So when you’re watching, as a sports lover … you can’t help but get swept up in it.” 

Wilson also attended the marquee sporting event of the year, the Tokyo Olympics.

It was a good Olympics to attend from a Kiwi’s point of view, with 20 medals won, featuring barnstorming performances from athletes like Lisa Carrington, Emma Twigg and the men’s rowing eight, and the emergence of under-the-radar medallists like Dylan Schmidt in trampolining and Hayden Wilde in triathlon.

Dylan Schmidt of New Zealand competing at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games.

A bronze for Dylan Schmidt, New Zealand's first ever in trampolining.  Photo: PHOTOSPORT

But there was a darker side too. The death of Rio 2016 Olympian, cyclist Olivia Podmore, raised penetrating questions about athletes’ mental health, and the duty of care of coaches and administrators. 


PIJF Photo: .