“Irish politics are tribal, incestuous, tangled and furtive, incomprehensible even to many of the people involved.” The words of Irish-American writer Tana French echo appropriately as politics thunders into the America’s Cup. And as a glimpse into what could be expected if Cork were to be announced as the ‘preferred bidder’ and enter into a six to eight week consultation with the Defender, the guns of social conscience are lining up on the lawn whilst a scandal threatens to derail the bid at two minutes to midnight.
Most dangerous is a vote of no-confidence in the Irish parliament following a gathering of 50 high-flying political guests supporting the promotion of Katherine Zappone to the coveted position of United Nations envoy whilst the country was under strict Covid lockdown measures that pretty explicitly outlawed such gatherings.
Present at the, on-the-face-of-it, illegal gathering was the deputy head of the government of Ireland, the ‘Tánaiste’ as they call them, Leo Varadkar and after trying to weasel his way out of the situation in the media by saying that Covid rules were unclear and that the spirit of the rule was upheld (ahem) is now being held to account alongside all his fellow attendees by the vote of no confidence being tabled and debated. It could derail the political landscape and stuff the America’s Cup bid.
And then there’s the social impact campaigners banging the post-Covid drum loudly and quite frankly I don’t blame them. ‘Spend the money on social care and mental health – we’ve had a pandemic and €150m would do wonders for the community etc’ is the battlecry whilst a pretty hopeful €500m cost/benefit analysis is waved in response. In short, it’s all getting a bit political and in Ireland they do politics particularly well. The Cup is becoming a football that will be booted from Leinster to Connacht, Galway to Waterford via Limerick if Cork gets the golden ticket.
But politics aside, if a path can be found through the near-term mess then it’s a cool sailing venue for the Cup. Cold. Challenging. Rough. Unforgiving. Shifty. It will be big boys racing and there’s every chance of some thoroughly character-building days out on the harbour in the 75’s and 40’s. Ireland does rain almost as well as it does politics. And it blows dogs off chains horizontally in the winter. Probably best to de-camp somewhere warm from about November through to, er…well..July?
Personally, I still can’t work out the money side of things and can’t see how the Defender gets funded with one of these government backed bids. I can join the dots on the Jeddah bid and see a pathway where cash is funnelled from the Saudi government via state-backed sponsors (Emirates) and not only do boats get built but also backers from previous campaigns finally get some money coming their way for once but Ireland and Valencia? I’m not so sure how it works.
And the recriminations would be large once the analysis is run and the proletariat discover that public money has funded another country’s dream. I’m not sure that flies. In the Middle East the public are more bought in and forgiving as there’s literally zero chance of change at the top any time in the next couple of centuries, let alone political cycles.
So if it’s to be Cork then it will be apple-cart-turning interesting. Aside from the funding, there’s the issue of the place becoming one giant AirBnB as every man and his dog rents out their pad to the international circus. Again, locals will be marginalised if you choose to look at the argument in that way – or able to capitalise on a marvellous cash-making opportunity if you look at it in another. One thing’s for sure, there aren’t enough hotel beds and guest houses to support an America’s Cup.
The rumour is that the ‘preferred bidder’ announcement is imminent. It could be as early as this evening UK time and then we’ll know. Expect the temperature to go through the roof if it’s anywhere other than Auckland which has been written off by just about everybody. I still think it could be the surprise (wouldn’t it be great?) and that Jim Ratcliffe, in cahoots with Grant Dalton, has the ability to stun and wrong-foot the world. Both men are past masters at pulling off the impossible and we are talking nothing more than cash to do the right thing.
For Ratcliffe, winning the Cup anywhere other than the Kiwi’s backyard wouldn’t seem squarely right and he’s a competitor at heart. Imagine winning it in Spain or Ireland and then trying to claim that you won it fair and square? Doesn’t work. “Yeah but you couldn’t win it down under” would be the carp from the Kiwis forevermore – and they’re spot-on. If we assume, and it’s one heck of a mighty assumption that my international readers will just smirk at, that Ineos has the best chance ever in the history of British America’s Cup challenges to win, then a victory on foreign soil away from New Zealand at an almost neutral venue, whilst great, would ring hollow. That’s the real truth.
If it has to go abroad then I think it should go for the turbo option and light the after-burners of possibility in the desert. Let’s go kitsch, glam, camp and outrageous. Take every petro-dollar possible and thrust the Cup into an Arabian stratosphere. The blue blazered brigade will have a field day choking on their words. The New York Yacht Club won’t be there, or so they say. The Brits will have to swallow their newfound woke credentials. And the Italians will stay put in Cagliari shouting. Into the frame will come new life, new challengers and seriously flash cash. Some can’t see it working. I disagree. Yes it will be different but it won’t be a disaster – anything but. The boats will be other-worldly and it will be a healthy Cup – no boozing, no caroozing. Very modern.
Not long now and all will be revealed. Auckland is the classy choice. Jeddah the brassy. Cork will be chilly and political. Spain will struggle, pockets will be lined but the sailing will be great.
Place your bets, it’s the wacky Auld Mug and for all we know, it’ll be a left-fielder that no-one’s even heard of and we’ll all look like chumps in the media…that would do just fine.