Set the dial. Stop the clocks. Cowes is out. Valencia is bust. The Irish bid is, well…all a bit Irish. Auckland is available but unlikely (more’s the pity). The America’s Cup is going to the Middle East as sure as night follows day. The sun is setting on the bidding war. The tide is out and we can see who’s been swimming naked. The desert is red hot now.
Join the dots, trace the money, eye the sponsors, look at the desire and everything points east. Football’s grandest competition couldn’t resist it. World Athletics fell over themselves to get there. Formula 1 loves it. And the all-time ultimate money-game, the Cup, just can’t wait to get there. It’s going to be stupendous.
For sure, it will have its problems and no doubt will be challenged in the courts. Human Rights can’t be ignored, deaths of un-fawning journalists can’t be brushed aside, women’s rights must be respected but the 37th Cup desperately needs the dollars to expand the show and there’s simply nowhere else on the planet, in the current climate or any other climate, that can match the Emirates for dollars.
West Texas Intermediate spiked above the $70 a barrel mark as the world rapidly exits economic decline and that’s game-on for all manner of largesse and projects as the desert kingdoms vie desperately for legitimacy on the world stage. Art, culture, sport are the strategic pillars and events like the Cup are the activation pawns in a much larger game. It’s happening and we’d better just get on with it.
For weeks now I’ve been receiving texts and emails telling me in absolute certainty and with complete clarity that the Cup is going to the desert. I have to be circumspect. But they’ve named names. They’ve drawn commercial dots with oil and gas companies and certain Knights of the Realm that I didn’t even know existed. I’ve had chapter and verse on how the airline will bankroll Team New Zealand with renewed gusto as the real owners, the Dubai Investment Corporation, funnels massive, eye-watering sums into the desperate Kiwis on the premise of a Cup in the sand. It’s been breathtaking and compelling and when it’s confirmed, and it becomes real, all of this seeming conjecture could perhaps be offered as fact. And Cowes Week was telling too.
Sources were drier than the summer in Doha. The 5G roll-out at the Clubs was delayed. Squadron members looked a bit miserable – their usual cheekiness was tempered when the Cup was mentioned. No-one seemed particularly hopeful for the event on home waters. Big business was winning over emotion. The Cup was slipping away and the Challenger of Record status was starting to weigh. All attempts at Arabian humour in passing (I’m good at that..inshallah) were met with a look that screamed ‘shut up.’ The next three years feel like a slog.
Cork sounded fun but the detail looks shaky and a curious quote in the Irish Times rather lays the whole thing to bed. Independent studies by blue-chip City auditors ahead of a proposal to government if the Cup contract were awarded all sounds a bit about face. Ranged against a committed bid from Jeddah with cash being thrown off like a busted fruit machine on steroids kills the plucky Irish stone-dead. Valencia meanwhile is a memory of a place still paying off the debts of before but with an idea that billions could be tapped into from the European Union. Really? My suspicion is that the Spanish bid started with “Once upon a time…” Origin Sports would be unlikely to fall for that one.
And what of Auckland? Well, an investment banker wanted to do what investment bankers do. Here’s $10 now and I’ll take $500 off you in the future..and your house. We’ll load the event with debt and run off with the prized assets and to hell with any collateral damage – usually team members. Sorry, no dice. Grant Dalton could see through that one in an instant and wasn’t shy in saying so – he’s a proper bloke. And with New Zealand really under the cosh with wretched lockdowns and the Delta variant of Covid creeping its menacing way into the country, it’s a tough ask to get the Government back to the Cup table. Plain and simple, it just isn’t happening.
So last man standing at the roulette wheel drunk as a skunk with the kids’ inheritance to blow is the United Arab Emirates and if you can park morality to one side, accept that everything’s going to be different and get onboard, it’s going to be the greatest event the world has ever seen. We are going to be blown away on a Sharqi wind as the fabulous Arabian people welcome the Cup world. The culture, the scale, the magnificence of a money-no-object Cup will be breathtaking. The architecture, the religion, the people, the food, the ambience – it will be out of this world.
Prepare to have everything you know about the America’s Cup amplified and your senses challenged, aroused and piqued. This will be an event with the volume on full. There will be nothing like it before and nothing like it ever again…and the good news is that we can all come back to Cowes in 2028 and do it properly.
Suspend your beliefs. Let’s give it a go…