It’s on the table. It really could be happening. Pinch yourself. The America’s Cup could be coming to the UK for a one-off Deed of Gift contest with Grant Dalton confirming that it’s being considered saying; “Certainly the Isle of Wight is an option. We want to come back (to Auckland), but we also have to think of the team and ultimately my responsibility is primarily to the welfare (of the team) and the strength and the ability to defend the Cup.”
And that’s the key here. Grant is looking out for his team from top to bottom, as any good boss should do, from the superstars to the cleaners. But there are so many moving parts – government, mayors, ministers, sponsors and potential eye-catching alternative bids that absolutely nothing can be ruled either out or in. Looking at the Auckland council 10 year budgeting process, that is currently going through public consultation to the 22nd March, and you can appreciate the predicament.
Dalton, as boss of a commercial enterprise, is eyeing the fast money around him but exercising the patience of a saint. He’s playing the game. It’s a torturous council process and the New Zealand media are reporting that the AC might not even be in the budgeting process as the Cup hadn’t concluded by the time submissions were made at the end of February. You couldn’t make it up.
But, as you can make out above, Jacinda Ardern was pictured with the winning home team right next to Pistol Pete holding the trophy and that’s a very good sign. It’s a clue that this is a serious issue and desperately needs executive authority. Jacinda has the pen. She has the political clout and capital but can she make it happen?
It’s a minefield of negotiation but with Dalton, it’s clear that there’s no machiavellian grand master plan and that he’s going to be doing precisely right by the team. As a straight-talker, he sees it black and white, does what he says and tells it how it is. I like that. And it’s absolutely right that he strikes the best deal for the sake of Team New Zealand and perhaps a deal that might appear off-kilter to the man-on-the-street is actually in the long-term interest of the country.
A lucrative match in the UK, bankrolled by the equally straight-talking Jim Ratcliffe could propel the Cup into the sporting stratosphere and set up a multi-challenge event for the 38th edition.
The Italians wouldn’t like it one little bit but they didn’t so much burn their bridges as incinerate them on a bonfire of vanity. Personally, I thought the Italians played harsh but fair. Awkward, culturally aloof, competitive, irascible, testy, down-right difficult. I quite admired them but they did nothing to secure entry to the gentleman’s club that now sits at the apex of the great game.
But we’ve seen this all before. The relationship between Defender and Challenger of Record always starts out as a love-in and ends in death by a thousand cuts. Deals get reneged on. Agreements get quashed. Self-interest raises its head and what you believed was better than a teenage crush, creeps into mid-life acrimonious bickering and ends in divorce in the High Court. It was ever thus.
But for now, life is rosy. Sat before Dalton and Ratcliffe is a world of opportunity. The chance to shake the foundations and project this fabulous competition to a global audience. One of the keys will be to build on the communications progress and it’s vital that they secure top-level resource at an event level to both relentlessly plug its virtues and paint the richest of canvases.
Going dormant and then firing up the website like a slumbering bear alongside the multi-media is not the way forward. It needs to be a living, anticipation-building, public and media relations exercise to start immediately. Maintaining the momentum is absolutely vital and bright minds, new blood and fresh approaches need to show this event not as an aberration on the sporting calendar but as a living, breathing, fire-snorting global sports franchise with worldwide appeal. Open the doors, invite the world in and do it relentlessly, capitalising on the goodwill and eyeballs of a public that has seen these AC75s in action and wants more. We need to see these beasts flying again – and quickly.
An America’s Cup in the summer of 2022 on Solent waters would be Wight lightning. It’s a story of our times. It would be absolutely fantastic. The Solent is a natural amphitheatre with more hydrographic nuances than San Francisco Bay. And if races are to be held actually around the Island – (how about a best of 21 races?) – then there’s a world of wind sheers, tidal gates, wrecks, rocks, conversions and swell even before you’ve turned up on the Bembridge Ledge buoy. Then there’s the blast back through the dominant forts at the eastern end of the Solent built by Royal Commission in 1859, past the difficult sands of Ryde and straight on to the Yacht Squadron finishing line. The photos would equal Auckland. The scenery is stunning. The sailing is challenging. The opportunity to showcase a (hopefully) post pandemic southern Britain would be enormous. In short, we’re ready. Bring it on. We’ll get the party started.
What a treat it would be. But it seems strange, albeit highly enjoyable, to be writing that the Cup could be coming to the UK without the euphoria of an event win. But the more you think about it, the more exciting it becomes. We’ve had a taste of it sporadically before with IACC boats thundering around the Island and Cowes hosted a magnificent America’s Cup Jubilee Regatta in 2001, where the electricity in the air was palpable. Superyachts moored off the Green in hazy summer, tanned crews prowling the narrow High Street replete in team gear. Every restaurant full to capacity. Australia II in the marina. Blimey those were magical days. To be a part of it was a privilege.
Bring the Cup to Cowes and you’ve got a serious event on your hands. The locals would embrace it like Kiwis and as a platform to whet appetites for a multi-challenger Cup in Auckland, you couldn’t do better. It would be tantalising. Form an orderly queue to Auckland in 2025.
But first Cowes in 2022. What a time to be alive.