Welcome to the America’s Cup. For those that tune in and expect a sporting contest, be warned. For those that believe in fairy tales and stories of comebacks with swashbuckling sailors at the peak of their powers, look away now. This isn’t a Disney production. This is a ruthless game played out by win-at-all-costs merchants with Shakespearean forces hiding in the wings ready at a moment’s notice, desperate to strut and fret their hour upon the stage.
Good, honest, decent people have been broken by the Cup game, their fortunes consumed, their egos bruised only to be quickly forgotten, spat out, exhaled like plumes of spray off a foiler at 50 knots. Many have walked this path and vowed never to return. The Cup just turned ugly. Very ugly. As Dennis Conner famously said about the Cup; “Bet on self interest…it’s always running.”
Overnight, a barrage of press releases have filtered through from Auckland with the Prada Cup Final under threat due to the ongoing Covid situation. This morning Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern declared that despite fresh outbreaks around South Auckland, the alert level will drop from the highest level 3 to level 2 for Auckland City that still means distancing protocols and restrictions on gatherings are enforced.
For the America’s Cup Event organisers (ACE) it’s a difficult situation that they have been wrestling with since the weekend. In a spirit of common sense and assuming consensus, ACE landed on a proposal to delay the Prada Cup Final to the 26th February and subsequently to delay The Match against Team New Zealand by a week to start on Saturday 13th March.
Not so fast says Luna Rossa, the Challenger of Record, sitting at 4-0 up who are throwing up the defence of: Yes we want to race but if the final cannot be completed by the 24th February in accordance with the Prada Cup conditions then all bets are off and whoever is leading the racing at that point will be declared the winner. As it stands today, Luna Rossa wins and faces the Kiwis in March. I wonder whether they would be singing the same tune at 4-0 down. Unlikely but that’s the game. Self interest came thundering to the table.
To win the America’s Cup you have got to be willing to play the hardest of hardball and to be honest, I have a sneaking admiration for what Luna Rossa is doing here. This isn’t a tea party. It isn’t a race for gentleman racers. It is a brutal game, not a sport, where you use every letter of every rule to your advantage. It’s easy to forget the years this event has lost in the Supreme Court and the Appellate courts in New York. We look back misty-eyed at the Deed of Gift matches believing that they were just an aberration. No, these are the quirky rules that Jim Ratcliffe was talking about. “Them’s the rules” unfortunate as it is from a pure sporting outlook. The dice are heavily loaded.
But there is light amidst the dark. The Cup organisers do have plans in place that would see racing take place effectively behind closed doors and we should see those enacted now. The race village will remain shut down and spectators will most probably be excluded – although quite how that will be policed is a question. Racing, with government approval, could be resumed and this is what Luna Rossa are pushing for. If you’re an Ineos fan, that’s the best outcome to be hoped for although the team did come out with a statement that carried zero weight in the eyes of the Challenger of Record, in support of a week’s suspension in line with the America’s Cup Event organisers wishes. It was almost pointless to issue it – and was a bit obvious with the light conditions forecast for the weekend.
Racing behind closed doors is a raw deal for Aucklanders and the spectators but these are strange global times. The pandemic is even more ruthless than the participants. It spares nobody and cares not a jot for a sporting contest or anything else for that matter. Unfortunately the die is set. Now the Cup needs to throw its action plan into force and get the racing concluded in whatever way it can. Luna Rossa has made its position very clear and it’s race to a conclusion or award the win to whoever is leading on the 24th February. That’s the hard stop in their book. No negotiation.
The mountain got a little steeper overnight for Ineos but who knows, they may only have to win five races to be crowned winners. Tables have a funny habit of turning.
You can read the two statements here: