I’ve felt better but finally tested negative for the relentless, motherless, tongueless ghost of sin that crept into my respiratory system and rendered me fatigued like never before and bed-ridden. It’s a hideous virus that black flags the sailor with the only remedy being paracetamol and sleep. I’m almost sleep exhausted so it’s a pleasure to be up and about, sitting at my computer with the dog opposite watching my every move. He never left my side in ten days – he knew something was up – and now it’s walkies party-time in his eyes but the strict rules of isolation are lost on the poor hound. Three days to go. Thanks for all the messages.
Whilst sick, I was greatly saddened to hear of the passing of Jacques Rogge, the former IOC president who I first met in Auckland back in 2003 when he strode into the media centre with an entourage of Olympic lackies. I was sitting opposite Bob Fisher and of course Jacques knew Bob, everyone knew Bob, and he was also friendly with the great Stuart Alexander and the mighty Angus Phillips of the Washington Post. He stopped for a chat and was looking forward to the upcoming Athens Olympics where he was sure that Ben Ainslie would win in the Finn. He was right of course.
And when I got to Athens, I was on a media boat on the Finn course with Jacques whilst Ben was doing an horizon job on the fleet and we stood talking and remonstrating about the new way that Finns were being sailed. “Not like zees when I was sailing.” We found the international sailors code of chat. It was fun. And we dissected the marked difference between how Dean Barker hiked upwind versus the ants-in-the-pants kineticism that Ben, Rafa Trujillo and Mateusz Kusnierewicz displayed. Lap after lap we karate-yachted and debated before a RIB came to pick him up and whisk him off to the next event on his relentless schedule. He was courteous, interesting, polite beyond belief and a sailor at heart with a dedication to youth. Possibly the last great IOC President. Sailing shall miss him. Sail on Jacques and thank you.
One of the things I haven’t missed whilst lying in bed has been the relentless PR machinations from the four Cup venues. Yes four, as Auckland is definitely back in the running by hook or by crook. My committed, sometimes bonkers, maniacal sources in the Gulf have gone quiet and that’s, I understand, Arabic for: ‘we’ve done it.’ But the Irish are correcting their ducks and forming a line that looks reasonably coherent whilst Valencia has tacked away from the fantasy-land of European Union funding and are now insisting that local business will back the fairy tale. They may well be right but the funding of the defender is the key and despite a hosting fee being negotiated that’s not the issue. Team New Zealand can’t just bag that and build boats and Ineos aren’t in the business of funding other teams so the dots all get drawn back to the sponsors and it’s here where the answer lies.
Emirates Airline, backed by the Investment Corporation of Dubai which in turn is government owned and awash with petro-dollars that will be swelled further after the 95% shut-down of oil production in the area affected by Hurricane Ida, is ready to go again on the premise of a Cup in the desert. Jeddah on the Red Sea Coast is most likely as the Saudis seem to have decreed that the City of the Night is their new sporting capital.
Formula 1 rocks into town at the beginning of December for a night race, the heavyweight unification fight between Fury and Joshua will happen there, Real Madrid play Barcelona at the King Abdullah Sports City Stadium later in the year in the Super Cup, snooker has its richest global prize in the desert kingdom and spectacles like WWE, the Saudi International Golf Tournament and the world’s richest horse race, the Saudi Cup, all take place there. The America’s Cup will fit in just nicely. Chump change.
And Team New Zealand will quietly be the beneficiary of a blizzard of dollars seeming captured on the open, commercial market funnelled via Dubai to create a team capable of taking on the might of Ineos. Furthermore, all the exciting plans circling around the main event can be activated. Women’s and Youth categories will be capitalised upon and exciting new foiling classes will have the green-light to be developed. Boatbuilders will be busy bees and the Cup will throng.
Put them in Cork or Valencia and it’ll be a miracle if anyone other than Ineos turns up. And if it goes to the desert, expect the facilities to be out of this world – just don’t question how it’s being built. It will be something from another planet and let’s be honest, it’s what the event desperately needs. Blank cheques are wonderful things and as the great F1 supremo, Bernie Ecclestone, once said about dictators: “At least under a dictator you can get things done.”
But the downside is that we know the backlash will come. Sailing loves its billionaires and clubs fall over themselves to welcome them in. How they amassed that fortune in technology, oil, supermarkets, telecoms, real estate, fashion or industry is of no concern. So too a sniff of royalty from a minor European state and the clubs and the sport can’t help themselves. But Arabian billions – oh no, no, no. That will never do. Red lines are crossed. Filthy lucre mired in obvious rights abuses is a no-go. Hence why the moderately acceptable Jeddah is on the table.
And of course, the concerns are valid. The monied Gulf States are more obvious than a super-tanker but they are playing a game that western sports franchises just can’t ignore – much as they would like to on moral grounds. For the Cup decision-makers it’s a headache. Accept the money, put on the spectacle and be damned forevermore on the forums of a quaint back-water sport or eke out an existence at a two-bit venue that could be better.
For what it’s worth I’m in favour of the ridiculous. I’d like to see what money-no-object looks like. I’ve seen Larry Ellison events and they are pretty good – I’ve never seen a firework display anywhere in the world like the Moet Cup in 2003 – and I’d like to see the Saudis give it a go. It gets my vote. I’d also like to see a desperately close event with the Brits winning it on the very last race. That would do just nicely. But most importantly, I just want to see America’s Cup racing and acing again. I want to see teams at it again – building, designing, arguing – and I want three years of hope to start building again. They say it’s the hope that kills and after 170-odd years, it’s about time the Brits had something to cheer in the Cup.
With very few options that make sense other than in the eyes of fiction, the Gulf is in pole position. We’ll find out in a couple of week’s time and the PR will be relentless. Antes will be upped and promises will be made but it’s the defenders shekel source that you have to follow – the rest is just conversation.
Nice to be back.