Mapping the ebbs and newsflows of the America’s Cup is a lifetime’s work. It fascinates and intrigues. It’s an ‘absorbing interest’ to take the words of the late, great, much-missed Bob Fisher and oh, how he would have loved this particular unfolding story.
So, as expressed here, Valencia’s audacious bid to be host is, it turns out, about as cold as the summer in San Francisco. The harsh light of reality, that unforgiving lens, reveals that they are still paying for the last Cup as confirmed by the seen-all-this-nonsense-before City Mayor and reported by the peerless Duncan Johnstone, Sports Editor of Stuff – the best researched AC source in New Zealand.
I did warn you. Valencia was always going to be an outside bet at best and Origin Sports Group, charged with sifting through the detritus to find a golden venue nugget (or several for a world series), are no mugs.
Far more realistic is the Middle East and I am starting to hear the rhythmic, melodic sounds of Ouds, Nays, and Qanuns getting louder as they beckon the Auld Mug to their dusty shores. Interestingly but almost certainly a bellwether of precisely nothing, is that traffic has increased here on Rule69 by over 4000% in the past week from the desert kingdoms and random messages from glamorous-sounding individuals with names I almost certainly can’t pronounce without prompt and have never met, reach me saying that open cheque-books are being waived. Let’s go with it. In this climate, Saudi riyals are rather attractive to the Cup teams – and one in particular that has been magnificently supported indirectly by the Investment Corporation of Dubai for years.
So let’s think about this. An America’s Cup in the desert – is it the end of the world? Not in my book, I quite like the idea. I think it would be tremendous and can you imagine the boats? They would be more refined than the Queen, skinnier and lighter than Kate Moss in her prime and about as delicate as a Gordon Ramsay flourish.
“Don’t stand there!” would be stickered everywhere on the paper-thin hull, shouted at by scared helms and flight controllers at clod-hopping grinders traversing the hulls and by golly would they fly through the 60 knot barrier. It would be electric racing and hopefully the boats would actually have electric elements too to level the gender field. Just a thought.
Give our brilliant global yacht designers the problem of designing for ultra-light winds, stand back and be utterly amazed. What we would see would be out of this world. Just look what they did with the International Moth Class and amplify that by a factor of 1000. Boy are those next-gen AC75’s going to be something…
And then shoreside – oh wow. Blank canvas space, Norman Foster and Richard Rogers architect studios on speed-dial and money-no-object that even the current billionaires would blush at. It would be the America’s Cup’s Disneyland moment. We haven’t seen anything until the trigger is pulled on a Cup in the Gulf.
And the Arabian people would be the most welcoming, hospitable, fabulous, engaged hosts that would embrace the Cup community with open arms and real pride in their nation – whether they would quite appreciate the nuances of foil tacking, vortices, camber and laylines is but a detail – inshallah. But as fans, supporters and media we would be treated to culture, history and tradition the likes of which we can’t imagine and it would work like clockwork – on time, probably way over budget (but we’re not paying) and beautiful at every turn. I can see it working.
And now with oil way above $60 a barrel – the break-even crucial mark for Gulf states as they traverse regeneration, projects are being green-lighted at will by the patriarchs as the Gulf States actively seek sporting events and cultural endeavours to re-position themselves on the world stage to prepare for a future minus the oil revenues.
The World Cup is in Qatar next year, UFC fights are held on Yas Island in Abu Dhabi, there’s the Dubai Desert Classic in horse racing, the Emirates Dubai Rugby Sevens and all manner of heavyweight boxing contests are being lined up ahead of places like Las Vegas due to the sheer, unrelenting cash on offer. As the America’s Cup goes commercial and glitzy, it’s an absolutely golden opportunity for Mohammed Bin-Salman and any other ambitious Gulf leader to present both a blank cheque and canvas and invite the world in. Who needs the politics of Europe when absolute leaders rule absolutely?
Many readers however will be appalled. The era of sports-washing is ugly and obvious. Human rights abuses, the denigration of women in society and serious environmental concerns are relentlessly brushed under the carpet by fawning sports authorities who simply have little option but to accept Middle East largesse. This is the flip side and you’ve got to be shameless and brave to go down this route. There may well be no coming back.
The America’s Cup, I suspect, will find the temptation hard to resist. It’s in a corner with a begging bowl out dressed up in gentlemen’s finery with plum voices all round but eyes squarely on the balance sheet. Do we, as Cup spectators, agree that this dance with the Arabs is a good thing or is it selling our soul for a fistful of petro-dollars? You can argue it many different ways from a moral and political standpoint. Let’s choose to stay out of the political spotlight and look at it from a pure sailing, innovation and event perspective. It would be mega all round.
The Cup in the Middle East would be bold and brash. Perhaps it’s time to go gaudy, go mad on design and see where it takes us. We will never know until we try and we might just get surprised – we usually do when the left-field is proposed. I’m being told it’s nailed-on by people who would say so and whose interests it is to tell me, making it impossible to ignore the sound of the Tarabuka drums as they get louder day by day. My advice – make it happen and stun the world.
I’ll be there in a heartbeat.