Well what a weekend of sport that was. The Formula One heavyweights revved up a Bahrainian sandstorm and thoroughly entertained whilst Dillian Whyte staked his claim in the pantheon of the modern-day greats over 200lbs, knocking out Alexander Povetkin with sheer, raw, brute power. England beat the Albanians at soccer, Maverick Vinales won the Moto GP in Qatar and Francis Ngannou was crowned UFC heavyweight champion. It was knockout sport all weekend.
Looking back at the free run the Cup had in February and early March, you can only conclude that it caught a break. A massive break. Any later and the global sports scheduling would have consigned it down the pecking order in the media. The Cup got lucky this time. The mainstream UK press know that Sir Ben is so interwoven into the public’s sporting conscience that he sells newspapers. Fuse that with a swashbuckling billionaire whose political opinions, business success and tax affairs are scrutinised and opined on, and you have media gold-dust.
The Challenger of Record status ensures that the mainstream will remain interested to a point and that is great. But there’s a limit to how much Cup politics the public will take. This is the eternal battle that the new incumbents leading the sport simply have to grapple with. The lack of a funded event body and a self-imposed hibernation for anything up to three years now, makes momentum hard to maintain in the fickle psyche of the public sporting consciousness.
And the glorious week of rumblings, rumours and ruminations on a Match in the UK next summer have started to feel more and more like a pipe dream as the weekend wore on. Something has shifted in the Cup galaxy. The big guns of Luna Rossa and American Magic, having already fired their media salvos of disapproval are joined now by the Cup titan Bruno Trouble piping in with his disapproval in the French media calling a Match on British water a ‘joke.’ More to the point, he is telling the French that Grant Dalton, who he has a hotline to seemingly, isn’t overly-enamoured with the Isle of Wight and that it is only an option now – but not a favoured option.
My question is, and always has been, on the funding of it all, as I first opined on here last week. I’m not an accountant or particularly au fait with international finance but I think it’s looking harder and harder to see how it would, could or should work. Jim Ratcliffe is not in the business of underwriting Team New Zealand and he has been pretty clear in interviews about not wanting to be seen to be buying the event. So, if you read the tea leaves and take the sheer romance out of the equation of a Cup on the Isle of Wight, you have to conclude that we’re looking at a 2024 defence in Auckland with a series of international regattas to whet the appetite. And, quite frankly, that would do just nicely. I suppose.
The key thing is to get these boats and teams racing again. A helicopter view comes swiftly to that conclusion. It has to be a priority. How quickly would any other sport die if it was only competed for ever three or four years? It’s just too long. The sponsors don’t like it. The sailors hate it. The owners can’t square the bang for their buck circle and the public view it as an aberration – albeit a colourful one, when it happens. In reality, this is looking like three or four showpieces over the next 18 months in the current boats before everything starts winding up for 2023 with the new boats and a couple of sighters in the northern hemisphere before de-camping to Auckland for the same summer format as we have just had. Is that good enough though? Does that do it? I guess it will have to.
The politics at play here almost feels like a walk across a newly frozen pond. At any moment a crack could appear and very rapidly things could go pear-shaped. We know with absolute certainty that nobody wants to see the 37th edition start in the New York courts. But there’s every reason to think it could. Furthermore, the Kiwis don’t want to start giving long-term advantage to the excluded teams from a 37th protocol and let two, three of four well-funded syndicates have a free run with testing, design, weather data etc and then find that they get mugged in their own backyard in 2024 if they accept a Match in 2022 in the UK.
Allowing those other teams, time out of the protocol restrictions could be a nightmare waiting to haunt the Kiwis down the road. Far better perhaps to tap up the China Sports Group, Emirates, Omega, The Warehouse Group, Gabe Newell etc and wring the Kiwi government in order to limp through to 2024 whilst keeping everyone wishing to multi-challenge under the cosh of tight nationality and other protocol restrictions and to hell with what the Brits say or would like.
The Cup may well be called the poisoned chalice for good reason but the Challenger of Record status is like Paraquat Dichloride – one sip can kill and there’s no known antidote. It’s a tough gig. It’s a rough ride. There’s plenty more to play out before we get an answer, I just hope it’s not the same one as before. What was the question again?