Small Country Big Heart: New Zealand, France and the Amsterdam connection

When in Amsterdam... - Blogged

When in Amsterdam has been watching the rugby and the 2011 Rugby World Cup has reached its final stage. France is to take on New Zealand for rugby’s greatest prize. The two countries have clashed many times on and off the sporting field. As rugby fans ready for the final on Sunday, a new ship sets sail from Amsterdam based organisation, Greenpeace. The conservation organisation, Greenpeace, was at the centre of an international incident between France and New Zealand that tested the small country’s courage on a world stage.

New Zealand a small country has always made world headlines with their fearsome All Black rugby team. The national team has dominated the world rankings holding the top position longer than any other country. France and the All Blacks have always provided exciting games at the World Cup. Perhaps the best game in rugby world cup history was the 1999 match where France beat the All Blacks 43-31. France has never won the World Cup and it was in 1987 the All Blacks claimed their only World Cup trophy by beating the French 29-9. The tenacity of All Blacks is not limited to rugby.

New Zealanders are famous throughout history for their courage. In 1953, Sir Edmund Hillary was the first Westerner to summit Mt Everest. In World War I New Zealand had one of the highest casualty and death rate per capita of any country involved in the first Great War with the exception of Serbia. In the Second World War NZ suffered more per ratio than any other country of the Commonwealth. Charles Upham from Christchurch is the only combat solider to win the Victoria Cross twice. The highest award for valour issued by the British Empire.

New Zealand has also shown its courage on the world stage by rejecting nuclear energy and weapons. In the 1980s this small country was the world leader in the anti-nuclear movement. The government of the time established a law making New Zealand a nuclear free zone. American ships were rejected from New Zealand waters and the small country lost its biggest and most powerful ally.

The French too were criticised for their nuclear goal, and testing nuclear weapons in Pacific territories. The famous quote from former New Zealand Prime Minister David Lange that 'there's only one thing worse than being incinerated by your enemies, and that's being incinerated by your friends'.

In 1985 French secret agents detonated explosives beneath the hull of the Greenpeace vessel, Rainbow Warrior while it rested in Auckland harbour. The Amsterdam based organisation was to set sail to try and interrupt French nuclear testing in the South Pacific. The Government of New Zealand criticised the French who rejected any involvement. Documents released 20 years later showed it was authorised by French President Francois Mitterrand.

The attack in Auckland would now be described as terrorism but NZ Prime Minister correctly labelled the explosion as ‘a major criminal act’. France finally acknowledged their involvement. They jailed the agents involved, a Minister resigned and they paid the New Zealanders $7 million in compensation.

As the finalists were earning their place in the Rugby World Cup, Greenpeace launched the new Rainbow Warrior III. The new 58 meter schooner is to set sail from its German boat builders on Friday. It will continue to fight for conservation and is heading for Brazil to raise awareness of rainforest destruction. Amsterdam based, Greepeace is more diplomatic in its approach today compared to its more militant style activities in the 1980s.

In the 1985 New Zealand stood up to the might and arrogance of France. On Sunday New Zealand will have to overcome their superiority complex with rugby. Within every superiority complex there is an inferiority complex. Once again France is the opponent. Once again Auckland is the location but for New Zealand a small country with a big heart it will be the battle with themselves that they need to win if they are to take the World Cup Rugby trophy.

When in Amsterdam you can watch the World Cup final at Coco’s Outback, near Rembrandtplein.

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