The news that Japan has banned international spectators from this summer’s Tokyo Olympics should come as no surprise. So fearful, and rightly so, of a dramatic escalation of infections, the government has made the right call and started the costly process of global refunds to ticket-holders. The fanatical Olympic globetrotters will be denied the spectacle.
But as spectators, we shouldn’t worry. The Olympics is such a made-for-TV event that attending is actually a poor experience. One of the great disappointments of my sports-watching life was being in the Spyros Louis Stadium in Athens in 2004 watching the track and field as a member of the British press corp. With no tannoy announcements for fear of interrupting the broadcast commentary, you sat clueless as to the action unfolding before your eyes. A Greek programme offered little help and my abiding memory was the smell of an Albanian journalist’s unbelievable body odour emanating from every pore in the sweltering heat. I think he must had Skordalia dip for lunch. Not the greatest experience.
And the Agios Kosmas Marina in the City of Glyfada, the sailing venue, sounded fabulous in the brochure but again the reality was somewhat different. We stayed, AirBnB style before it was a thing, in the basement of a mad-as-a-box-of-frogs Greek lady who was generosity personified and who insisted on cooking lavish evening meals as the dogs barked in the courtyard and the heavy Athens evening heat bore down. On the first day we caught a fantastic, modern tram to the heart of the sailing venue and logistically looked like geniuses. That was the last time the tram ran. It was only contracted to work ‘for the start’ of the Olympics, not ‘for the duration’ of the Games. We were stuck on the outskirts of town for the rest of the regatta, relying on Greek buses that were random at best.
Tokyo would have seen no such logistical nightmares. The country lives on perfect timing. On service. On incredible hospitality. The tradition and food is remarkable. It’s a shame that the ultimate showcase will be solely a televisual one rather than a sensory experience for a global audience that they would have welcomed with open arms. The sailing venue of Enoshima Harbour and the courses out on Sagami Bay would have been spectacular to visit and witness, a short hop south on the bullet train through Yokahama and on to the coast. But alas, it’s another event to watch from the sofa with reliance on the broadcasters.
But this is modern-day sport unfortunately. We had better get used to it. Stadiums are empty. It’s a behind-closed-doors experience now and sadly it’s for the foreseeable future – vaccine or no vaccine. Large swathes of France and Italy are back in lockdown and looking at the Milan-San Remo cycling race yesterday, all 300 kilometres of it was largely through deserted towns, villages and Cities. So whilst the America’s Cup plans for a bright future in either the UK for a one-off event or Auckland in 2023 or 2024, the big factor is going to be how to bring this to the widest possible global audience to maximise its potential.
Overnight, a statement issued by Christopher J. Culver, Commodore of the New York Yacht club and widely reported by Reuters stated: “A deed of gift match off the Isle of Wight would be a huge step in the wrong direction. The two previous Deed of Gift matches were distinct low points in the history of the America’s Cup. The New York Yacht Club will not support a Deed of Gift match or an America’s Cup competition that…is effectively open to only the defender and Challenger of Record.”
And with the greatest of respect to both Culver and the New York Yacht Club, he’s absolutely right and absolutely wrong. In normal times, the thought of taking the Cup out of New Zealand and holding a one-off Match with the Auld Mug on the line in a billionaire’s back-yard is nuts. It’s absurd. No-one should support it. Crazy town. But in the current global situation, with an end to the pandemic still a mile off, possibly several years off, and with Team New Zealand being given the run-around by the government and the Auckland Council’s budgetary process, it’s the most attractive option available and could actually be the shrewdest move for the Cup all round.
Yes, excluding other Challengers seems a bit harsh but who’s to say that’s not being considered and is on the table? I’ll bet it is. And with an absolute commitment already written into the rules that the AC75s will be in for both the 37th and 38th editions, what’s to stop a team like American Magic from ignoring the exclusion of the regatta in the UK and focussing on the Auckland regatta in 2024?
A smart move would be a cast-iron agreement that whatever happens in the 37th Match, the 38th is held in Auckland. Team New Zealand would either be Defender or Challenger but the event will 100% be on the Hauraki Gulf in 2024. It would give the Kiwi government all the time in the world to sort out finances and release them from the barrel they are currently strapped over.
Yes traditions would need to be usurped but at least the event has the opportunity to build its fanbase and capitalise on the momentum. This is big-time sport now and needs big-time thinking. Again, Culver & Co are talking from a traditionalists script where, understandably, they don’t want to see change to a competition where change actually outdid them in 1983 after 132 years. Change scares the living daylights out of them. They would like to ignore the pandemic, go displacement, bring back spinnakers and bore the living daylights out of the audience whilst killing the event stone-dead.
We’re in a new age now. The AC75s, derided from the outset, were outstanding and breathtaking. But we need to get them racing again. They need to be out there. We need to see the potential of Te Rehutai and Britannia – and if Luna Rossa and Patriot want to come to the Cowes Jamboree 2022, then put your money down and join the party. It would be the mother of all Cups. It would be enlightening and herald a brave new era for this fabulous competition. Debate is good. Debate is right. But vision, a sense of realism and an appreciation of the global times married with the opportunity presented before the Cup must take precedence.
It’s a digital world now, the analogue voices hark to a time forgot. The Cup must move forward…and rapidly.