One phrase that reverberates around my mind at times of worry is that of the late, great Walt Disney: “Worry is a waste of imagination” and I think that’s just about right. But worry is everywhere at the moment in the America’s Cup and judging by some of the calls, chats and texts from yesterday, I’m not alone in being worried about the current situation. You worry because you care but am I alone in starting to lose a bit of faith that ‘everything will be okay’ to paraphrase the concerned?
This venue charade looks like a pack of cards, if we’re honest. Cork is getting battered to death politically. Jeddah has woken up and realised just what they were letting themselves in for and has shied away. Spain is a mirage of ambition dancing to an old, but let’s not forget, rather beautiful tune. None of them look likely. Some look downright unacceptable and there’s a horrible sense that we are back at square one again. What’s been presented as a short-list isn’t very good. Perhaps that was the plan all along?
The issue that no-one will tell me with any kind of convincing argument is how does the Defender get a pay-out in order to build boats and defend in a suitable manner? And if you’re Cork, Barcelona or wherever where public money is on the line, how do you square that desperately needed cash in the economy with supporting a foreign team to have a jolly good time racing fancy sailboats whilst your population recovers from a pandemic?
I just don’t get it. It’s fantasy-land surely? Okay, if you’re an oil-rich kingdom with absolute rule, you can over-ride the concerns and never mention the expense being expensed but anyone else with an electorate to answer to is going to find it very hard to spin this one. Perhaps there’s an Oman, Bahrain or Abu Dhabi waiting in the wings? Who knows…?
So where does that leave Team New Zealand and the Cup? After a globe-trotting exercise to see the white’s of eyes at the options, I would imagine they’ve scuttled back to think again. And rather like a door in an old country house that just won’t close, the slamming of the Kiwi Home Defence project just keeps on creeping ajar. Thank goodness…it’s more than likely the only game in town now.
However, the bad blood that was spilled amid the damaging personal attacks, not to mention the damning statements about trust whilst repelling the proposal in the most robust manner, could be something that comes back to haunt. If a deal can’t be concluded overseas, there will be nothing more chastening than seeing Team New Zealand come back with its tail between its legs.
And let me just go back to a line from above about this ‘perhaps being the plan all along’ – it’s James Bond season after all – but if you look at how this is all unfolding through the lens of Jim Ratcliffe and Ineos Britannia, it’s all looking rather rosy.
This could be the easiest America’s Cup to win in decades. If the strategy was to get Origin Sports Group to pony up three headache venues on a short-list and then send a cash-strapped defender scuttling home to try and raise money to compete, then they’ve played a blinder. Blood is in the water. A wounded beast is limping along, starving from a lack of financial oxygen. Meanwhile you’re full-steam ahead with a money-no-object campaign, the backing of the finest outfit in Formula 1 and a sports group that is peerless in world sport. Masterclass in gamesmanship perhaps.
And furthermore, there’s a nationality rule in place that precludes just about everyone else from coming to the party. Clever, clever, clever from the Ineos perspective or have they just got situationally lucky? Whatever, the field is settling nicely before them and the engraver may as well start planning where to put the Royal Yacht Squadron on the fourth plinth and Cowes is ready for 2028 (sorry couldn’t resist it).
The likely scenario now is that Auckland is resurrected as the only viable venue, with all the infrastructure in place, with both Ineos and Magic still there (interestingly) and Team New Zealand has to go cap in hand to the usual suspects to build a boat. It will be the threadbare defence that Grant Dalton so desperately wanted to avoid and who’s to say that in that scenario he might just walk away?
He’s crystal clear to the RNZYS membership and the media that he doesn’t want to see a repeat of 2003 but that might be the only option. A plucky defence for sure, as the Kiwis won’t go down without the mother of all fights, but the odds have shortened dramatically. Ineos knows the DNA of these AC75’s now and certainly won’t be serving up a turkey again so it’s all on for Team New Zealand to retain on a shoestring.
Meanwhile, there’s an additional headache of costs in these AC40’s which it’s being mooted are a condition of entry. A 40 foot boat with foils and electronic wizardry, crikey, we are staring down the barrel of $1,000,000 at least aren’t we? Plus the costs of feeding, watering and paying the expenses of a new team. Yet another set of expenses on the bottom line in cold, hard cash that’s got to be found somewhere and somehow. Rich people can be very benevolent when impassioned but funding someone else’s dream as a condition of entry might just stick in the craw. Am I alone in thinking that this whole regatta is shooting just way too high and that the costs are going to be prohibitive?
So how will all this worry be allayed? Does a generous, swashbuckling benefactor step in at the 11th hour and ride to the regatta’s and the defender’s rescue? Will governments step forward and fund the excess? Well, with the global economy tanking this week and the economic recovery faltering – in Britain we’ve got food and fuel shortages on top of soaring Covid infections – it’s looking unlikely. The Cup is an excess that will be shied away from as being political dynamite with those involved and proposing largesse not reading the room particularly well.
But I end as I begun with Walt Disney with one of his classic, heart-warming, foresightful lines: “If you can visualize it. If you can dream it. There’s some way to do it.”
Let’s hope Walt’s right.