“Rumour is a pipe blown by surmises, jealousies and conjecture,” – the exacting, razor-sharp words of William Shakespeare who would have surely revelled in the farce, comedy, history and tragedy of the America’s Cup. And if the dockside chatter is right, it’s happening in the UK in the summer of 2023 in Cowes. That’s the word on the street. That’s the machiavellian gossip doing the rounds imparted in that truly British conspiratorial manner by pretty well-placed individuals saying so and sounding so very, very convincing. And the further opine is that the Kiwi government negotiations are a busted flush, a Shakespearean farce being played out for ‘Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow’, with both parties recognising that there simply isn’t the money required or the will in the quill to mount a defence of any reasonable proportions.
Not sure I quite buy it all yet – much as I would love to – and I still would have a very tough time betting against the Kiwis defending even if they commandeered a Maori Waka and staffed it with the next generation sailors. They’ve always done the Cup on a shoestring, the last defence was no different, and what a mighty force they are. But is the tide going out on the make-do-and-mend mentality?
Team New Zealand is fighting hard behind the scenes and, it would seem, very much making itself open to commercial offers with title sponsor deals rarer than hen’s teeth in the current environment. Cue the benefactor source of last resort – a bored billionaire – and oh how one of Swiss descendancy might well be licking his lips at a turn-key proposal that just needs the rocket fuel of cash, of which he has plenty, to scoop up and turn into commercial and sporting gold. It would be the story of stories. The Kiwi nemesis riding to the home team’s rescue and reversing in an instant the years of ire, anger and despair. Better personal PR you could not imagine and the engravers can start planning where next to etch New Zealand’s name on the crowded trophy. New plinth perhaps? But we get ahead of ourselves…
Lips are loosening dockside as the timescale narrows for a successful conclusion to talks with the socialist government of New Zealand who have more than a few other things on their plate at the moment than a bunch of yachties at play in a billionaire’s arms race. The scene could well set for some serious drama to unfold in the coming months with all options on the table and every left-field idea in play but remember we are in that crucial negotiation period where media are played like a Stradivarius to convey a position. Buy your ticket, take your seat and see how this cookie crumbles. It’s a drama with plenty of moving parts in play.
But we’ve been this way before. In the absolute vacuum of real information, conjecture creeps in like an unwelcome leak in a starboard window. But it’s there and collective breaths are being held as the brinksmanship takes things to the wire. In truth, the reality is always far more mundane than the speculation but it’s interesting to see Sir Stephen Tindall, that stalwart of Team New Zealand who has done so much for the sport, the Cup and the team, standing aside. Particularly so after his interview straight after the victory where he stated that he was straight back in to work on the next defence. He looked all-in for the next challenge so it’s both a shame to see him go and my God, the hares are racing.
Add one plus one and two is not the answer. It never is in the Cup. The conjecture is that fund-raising and the government talks are not quite so important – a side deal has been done (with whom, who knows? But we can hazard several guesses…) but Sir Stephen’s retirement is not being taken at face value. More’s the pity after such service and even the news that he has taken on a very important role as Team New Zealand’s Sustainability Ambassador, rings alarm bells. We’re a cynical lot.
But I’m not quite buying the rumours just yet. It still feels a bit too early to call this definitively for the UK as you can’t help but think that it’s a hell of a gig to pull off and then spin to the world. I’m not sure anyone’s buying the Swiss rumour either. We used to be able to argue that the Cup was competed for, like climbing Mount Everest, ‘because it’s there’ but nowadays it’s all about commercial launchpads and value-add. Billionaires aren’t the benevolent cash cows they once were.
With the world in its current state, the return isn’t quite so good as before, although I would argue in global sporting terms that it’s actually a relatively cheap event to participate in, but winning brings a whole heap of issues that many could well do without. It’s certainly a case of ‘be careful what you wish for’ and with such a lack of continuity, you can see why money flows into other sports that offer bang for buck and media coverage on a rolling basis – for sailing’s pinnacle event it’s a pipe dream. The Cup’s uniqueness and nuances of its ruling paperwork are a mighty sea-anchor to any significant progress in the modern world of sport – many have tried, all have failed as encouraging words don’t match actions and ideas are thwarted by protocol and procedure.
Meanwhile, the Shakespearean drama of the next Cup is alive with speculation coursing through the back alleys and the watering holes whilst we wait for definitive answers. The smarts are on a Cup in Cowes, the wise are set on a deal at two minutes to midnight in Auckland. And don’t even start on the implications of Grant Dalton not getting his Knighthood….