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All Blacks Do Government No Favors With World Cup Loss to France

(Bloomberg) -- When New Zealand’s All Blacks opened the Rugby World Cup with a loss to France at the weekend, Prime Minister Chris Hipkins had more reason than most Kiwi fans to grimace.

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Whether by coincidence or not, a pattern has emerged between the team’s World Cup results and the fate of the incumbent government whenever the tournament is held in an election year.

In 1987, when the All Blacks won the first-ever World Cup, the government of the day was reelected two months later. When the All Blacks were victors in 2011, the incumbent administration was returned again. But in 1999, following a shock All Blacks loss to France in the World Cup semifinal, voters went on to oust the ruling party.

Those parallels add a smidgen of veracity to the oft-cited folklore that New Zealand’s national mood is influenced by the performance of its revered rugby team.

Hipkins will be hoping the national side can turn its fortunes around in the run-up to the Oct. 14 election.

Support for his Labour Party dropped below 30% for the first time since late 2016 in a 1News/Verian poll last month. By contrast, the main opposition National Party had 37% support, enough to command a majority in parliament if it teams with the right-wing ACT Party.

The 13-27 defeat in Paris adds to pressure on the All Blacks, who came into the 2023 tournament in uncertain form and with injuries to key players. The loss against the host nation — one of the hot favorites to lift the Webb Ellis Cup — will also dent confidence among New Zealanders that their team can go all the way.

Election Timing

It’s the first time in the 10 editions of the World Cup, which is held every four years, that the All Blacks have lost a pool game.

The side still remains odds-on to qualify for the crucial sudden-death games to come before the trophy is awarded in the final weekend of October.

And for the first time, the general election will be held before the All Blacks’ World Cup fate is known. In fact, ballot boxes will close just hours before the team is scheduled to play its first elimination game.

The election date was set in January. Cynics might say the government had a look at the All Blacks’ dismal 2022 record — only eight wins from 13 games — and decided to hold the election before they could be tossed out of the World Cup.

Hipkins laughed off that suggestion last week, but told Bloomberg he expects the All Blacks to go far at the tournament.

“I’m looking forward to cheering on the All Blacks in the final as a reelected prime minister of New Zealand,” he said. “They are the best rugby team in the world, we’re incredibly proud of them and I think that they’re going to do exceptionally well in this World Cup competition.”

Of course that begs the question: if it was so confident that the All Blacks would win the tournament for an unprecedented fourth time, wouldn’t the government have scheduled the election for after the final?

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