Backlash

He quelled the Squadron members and amicably parted ways with the New Zealand government all behind closed doors, but now the public and political backlash has started with Grant Dalton squarely in the crosshairs. It’s understandable but unfair in my view. Now, perhaps, the embattled boss needs to speak in Parliament and to the nation as the America’s Cup gets kicked around like a political football.

Rawiri Waititi – Co-Leader of the Maori Party

The co-leader of the powerful Maori Party, Rawiri Waititi, framed the rejected government offer of NZD$99 million and the hundreds of millions of dollars of taxpayers money thrown at Team New Zealand over the years against the plight of those struggling in society. And he’s absolutely within his rights to do so. The Cup is on any level, obscene and grotesque in its demand for bottomless pits of money and in its current format it is totally unsustainable and rapidly painting itself into irrelevance. It has to change and as a consequence the government ties needed to be severed. Permanently.

As Waititi thunderously stated: “”The sooner the Americas Cup is banished from our shores, the better. Invest the $100 million on offer into our poor, our homeless and the real people that require it. The rich have had enough play in the water. Time they pay for their own boats from now on.”

Spot on. And what a relief that the $99 million can now be ploughed full square into more worthy causes as Team New Zealand flies solo into unknown commercial reality and relieves the Kiwi government of the burden of responsibility. Should the Maori party not be celebrating Grant Dalton as a hero therefore? Not a bit of it…

©KOS Picture Source / www.kospictures.com

The statement doubles down again saying: “Do the big boys down town have plenty of money to sponsor their own Cup? You bet they do! They’d just rather not use it.” Well we will find out pretty soon about that but the difficult divorce from public finances was always going to be a rocky path. And the killer line:

“One hundred million dollars on offer to any code in this country is an offer that no other code from JAB to the All Blacks would refuse. But it was. The privileged, entitled, rich, top end of town, fully funded in previous endeavours by Aotearoa Incorporated have shown their true colours. If the hand-out from government isn’t big enough they will sell their souls to the highest bidder.”

It’s an easy, and in my opinion, unfair shot to label Team New Zealand as national traitors deserting the motherland that fostered and nurtured them through thick and thin. Whilst that argument is of course valid through the lens of public finances, what the America’s Cup presently stands for is excess everywhere you look and that’s not the zeitgeist of the modern world. The backlash was expected, entirely predictable and thoroughly reasonable.

©ACE / Carlo Borlenghi

However, if Grant Dalton were to pull, as I suspect, a mighty rabbit out of his top hat and demand that The Match be raced in Auckland after a World Challenger Series then all the boxes are ticked in my book. The government can be gently and respectfully re-approached to secure merely the infrastructure and wouldn’t it be wonderful if the event could be guaranteed to be net positive in cash terms all round both at a government and ancillary level? No taxpayer support required and the Kiwi business, hospitality, boat building and superyacht sectors can all benefit mightily – as they should rightly expect. By drumming up the sponsor dollars overseas and yes, selling it out if that’s what you want to call it, to international venues but bringing it back for the actual America’s Cup on home waters where I believe it should be rightfully contested, would be the masterstroke of masterstrokes.

And whilst the Maori Party are quite rightly having their say, into the debate comes the Italian PR machine dead on cue. Spithill’s been at the media talking up Auckland (he lives there) and a few media outlets have weighed in with breathless copy and thinly-veiled nuance about consequences if it’s not held down under. Okay fair enough but it rather misses the global point that the Cup has to evolve to survive and that it’s completely unsustainable otherwise. The woe-is-me Italian stance is about as obvious as a brick wall. Move on.

©KOS Picture Source / www.kospictures.com

And so we do, to Europe. Stepping into the ring, quite astonishingly and with the shutzpah of a faded cabaret dancer and more front than Harrods is Valencia quoting eye-watering EU re-generation funding that will ‘surely be guaranteed’ if the Cup is awarded to the City – Give. Me. A. Break. – I just cannot believe that this has any legs whatsoever. It’s up there with the chancers standing by the Golden Gate in Sausalito saying: “Wanna buy a bridge?”

The Cup was marvellous in 2007 in Valencia but the aftermath was just horrible and opening that can of worms again is a step into the unknown. The Origin Sports Group is way smarter and way cannier than to believe in the promise of EU largesse and I can’t imagine will be entertaining the idea in any way other than politely. Sure the infrastructure is still there – it has seen better days but it’s still there – and it’s a nice regeneration fantasy post-Covid but dealing with the EU is akin to selling your soul to politics and to my eye it looks like an outside bet placed by chancers on a losing streak.

For Dalton he’s damned whichever way he turns in this Cup saga and it’s tricky times as he navigates the funding rounds with the goal of keeping Team New Zealand at the top of the sporting pile. He rightly saw the 2003 defence as a complete and utter sporting embarrassment and under his watch, a repeat is plain and simply not happening. That’s to be applauded and I’ll lay a pretty penny that the brighter minds in the Kiwi public realise what’s happening and are supportive of Team New Zealand wherever in the world they need to go to keep winning.

©ACE / Studio Borlenghi

Taking that spirit of innovation on the road and showing it to the world could be one of the great expos of national identity and pride and with the sailing talent they possess you would have to be mad to bet against them if they can just get an even boat. On pure talent and design brilliance the Kiwis are the toughest act in Cup sailing to beat.

The backlash is on. It’s going to get worse and it’s a time for cool heads. In Grant Dalton, New Zealand should rest easy and rally around both the team and the flag as I’m sure they will. He’s not selling out. He’s just being realistic and the All Blacks of the Cup won’t let it go without the mother of all fights. Hold it in mind that it’s all about winning. It always was.

This story will run and run.




4 thoughts on “Backlash

  1. I wouldn’t be averse to a World Series event in Valencia. The Port America’s Cup area has languished since 2010, but they were in the running to host the Spanish SailGP event and they are trying to restore Alinghi 5 and put her on public display after all this time. It’d be great to see the area getting to host major events as it was designed to, even if they’re only ones that last about a week or so.

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  2. Unfortunately the Maori Party here like to spin things (as all politicians do) for their own means. The reality is that there is not $100m for ETNZ…the cash was circa $30m with the rest in kind – peppercorn rent for ETNZ, base rent for other teams, police services etc. There was never a $100m in cash forthcoming. On top of that Alk Council really did not make those overseas vessels that did manage to get in very welcome. While I am very disappointed about the potential loss of hosting one really does need to be pragmatic about the situation. Auckland isn’t a great place for sponsors and time zones so it is a difficult sell for any team sourcing $ let alone in a post Covid market. The NZ Government needs to get on board with previous sponsorship/tax contribution versions and promote NZ as they did in Valencia and SF. They seem to want the high value tourist and this is the market.

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