Not sure who the Public Relations advisers are to either camps but they need firing. Immediately. Last night my inbox filled with links to Kiwi TV and radio stations as both Grant Dalton and Mark Dunphy hit the airwaves in a sum-of-nothing process that just leaves the public going: ‘Just get on with it and get around the table.’ I have to say that the whole ‘he-said, she-said’ is a charade of comical proportions. It’s unedifying to watch.
At the end of the day, a rich businessman has broken cover, called BS on the overseas experiment and is determined to make sure the defence stays in Auckland in 2024. Great. Get around the table, thrash it out, reveal who the backers are and start building boats. Simple. Let’s go sailing.
On the other side of the table is the greatest winning machine in Cup history who has absolutely zero interest in competing and absolutely every interest in winning. And that’s compelling. What an awesome proposition. Plus the winning team know the home waters like the back of their hand, have the very best sailors, designers and builders and so the prospect of a Cup in Auckland is two thirds of the winning equation. Or so you’d think.
A marriage made in heaven? Not a bit of it. Both sides have started the courtship throwing darts at each other. I sense a deep distrust and a now-masked, desperate row-back, utter dislike of one another. It’s almost as if there’s a subtext running through this that we are not privy to. Is it the spectre of old money-men from the past haunting the current incumbents of the hot seats at Team New Zealand and the RNZYS? I can’t fathom it but I suspect as much. But what do they, TNZ and the Squadron, want or expect in probably the harshest time in the history of the modern Cup to raise sponsorship or donor backed dollars?
Here’s a guy saying ‘the money’s not a problem’ and that he’s got backers who wish to remain in the shadows. For some reason, that’s not being believed. But if I were a wealthy banker, real estate mogul, computer platform billionaire or had just bought a bucket of load of Bitcoin at $50 a few years ago on a punt, I’d want anonymity right up until the point that the boats are launched and a glass of champagne is thrust into my paw. I’d equally want someone to do my bidding for me. I wouldn’t want press microphones jammed into my jaw and I’m certainly not taking calls from niche sport print journos – I am simply too busy, the summer’s coming and I have a rather nice superyacht to lounge on.
So Mark Dunphy, who to my eye and ear looks and sounds like a straight-up guy, is the fall guy taking the slings and arrows but giving as good as he gets. Kiwi Cup politics feels like an exclusive club set up for glue-walkers. I admire him for taking on the fight. If the PR battle were being scored along the lines of a tennis match I’d say it’s 30-15 to the new kid on the block. If it were a boxing match, the first three rounds have gone to Mark ‘The Oilman’ Dunphy through sheer consistency whilst Grant ‘Granite’ Dalton, the undisputed heavyweight champion of the world and living legend, has been shadow-boxing, throwing a few left leads but largely from the back foot.
The long and short of all of this is that the whole lot need a matriarchal figure to grab them both by the ears, sit them down in a quiet room like naughty schoolboys and get them talking face to face. Tell the PR teams to go and do some colouring in on the website and social media, close the doors and thrash out the deal. Now be polite to each other, go in with an open mind, listen and see where it all leads to.
My suspicion is that the money is there – this would be too embarrassing for a multi-millionaire if it wasn’t but that some of the donors have strings attached and history. Well, the donors in the other bidding countries, whichever way you look, have way bigger strings, politics that you just don’t want to touch with a bargepole and a track record. Better to stay out of that. Seriously.
Will it happen? Probably but not in the timescale that either party imagines and I fear for a super-Sunday of interviews that shows neither party in any kind of decent light. This is a straight-up deal or it’s no dice. Simple. Turn down the interview requests. Enforce a complete media black-out. Get talking, do a deal, stun the world at the 11th hour and keep in mind the prize – the 37th America’s Cup on home waters, with all the infrastructure there, the world willing it on, and the most magnificent boats with the best sailors ever in Cup history ready to go.
Forget 2003 and the perceived notions of embarrassment, there’s too much IP and willpower in the current Kiwi sailors’ lockers to prevent that and with just enough money, the betting would all be on Team New Zealand – again.
The Kiwi public want this done and it should be done, especially after the drudgery and terror of the current depressing Covid situation down there. The bright lights of foreign suitors are but a mirage. Give the fabulous Kiwi public some sporting hope, indeed some real hope that there’s a brighter future and that this wretched pandemic hasn’t stopped the country dead in its tracks. The Cup is much more than a boat race for an ugly ewer.
Auckland is the real deal. New Zealand is the only deal. Just do it.