It never rains but it pours for Team New Zealand. I awoke this morning to an email from the holier-than-thou Taxpayers’ Union in New Zealand with a statement demanding to know whether the syndicate is being investigated by the Serious Fraud Office for receiving the best part of NZD$1.5m over the Covid-19 lockdown period. Yawn. We’ve been here before.
In the UK we are well versed in reading about businesses and the monied rich requesting taxpayer money. Back in May 2020, a story broke on Sky News about PetroIneos, an energy business jointly owned by Sir Jim Ratcliffe and the China state-owned company PetroChina, asking for ‘up to’ £500m due to a slump in demand for oil as the pandemic unfolded.
It was particularly poor timing all round as Jim had just moved to Monaco for ‘tax reasons’ whilst occupying the number one slot on the rich list by a country mile with a personal wealth estimated, at that time, of some £18bn. Needless to say, the British public weren’t amused but it was a storm in a teacup.
But for many much smaller businesses, the global Covid schemes of furlough have been a lifeline, keeping workers in jobs, food on the table and homes warm whilst the enforced lockdowns precluded work and opportunity.
You can argue until the cows (Cowes?) come home about who should or shouldn’t have received government support and whether sports teams should have benefited or not but for the Serious Fraud Office to be involved in the Team New Zealand case, if correct, is quite something. For that lot to get involved, there would have to be evidence to pursue but I suspect it’s a hill of beans and a nice headline for the Taxpayers’ Union rather than anything more substantial.
Whatever the outcome in the SFO case, it’s just another media headache on top of the Burling/Tuke ego-nonsense and the Patrizio Bertelli loan issue for Team New Zealand who will hopefully get back on the front foot this week with a venue announcement. Surely that is now the key to moving everything forward and will dictate future finances and deals that simply have to be done.
My sense is that there’s far more going on backstage than we’re hearing. My crystal ball leads me, once again, to the fast-money of the Middle East to solve an almighty array of problems stacking up for the Defender as I just can’t see how else they can square the financial circle without a Saudi parachute drop. My compass might be off but where else is the cash coming from?
In the prevailing circumstances of darkening economic clouds globally, conditions aren’t conducive to fund raising at the moment. It’s an uphill battle with the Covid situation ongoing to even get out of New Zealand in order to get around a boardroom table and convince corporates of the merits of the America’s Cup. The path of least resistance, financially (and that’s an important distinction), is the Middle East.
In a sporting sense, the sailing world will be up in arms, nascent teams will be considering their options with m’learned friends and the flack will be relentless but I was looking at a report prepared by Ernst & Young for the Saudi Vision 2030 plan over the weekend and was bowled over by the sports that they are supporting.
Boxing, Formula 1, Soccer (on so many levels and so many global clubs and entities involved), Disability sport, Athletics, WWE, Golf, Horse-racing, E-Prix, Parachuting, Rowing, Rock climbing, Skateboarding, BMX, Tennis, FIBA, Equestrian, Super Bikes, Rugby, Hockey, Scramble Bikes, Rally-cross, Handball, Squash, Badminton, Extreme Sports – basically every sport you’ve ever heard of or ever flicked through a channel on satellite TV and watched. Are all these sports and their communities up in arms and vociferously opposed to Saudi largesse? Not that I can see…
Curiously though, there was no mention whatsoever of yachting, sailing or any wind-powered sports despite a nice picture of some pre-foil wing boarders blasting down a man-made speed-lake in the desert. I wonder how the Cup segued into the Vision 2030, if indeed it really has?
Why sailing should be so sniffy about the flash cash comes down to our sports’ moral compass. Participants in sailing are bright individuals who utterly and vehemently disagree with supporting nefarious regimes with questionable human rights abuses and state sponsored assassinations of journalists (best I don’t go there then).
And all credit to those that speak out. Many would see the America’s Cup in Jeddah as being a sell-out and I can see their arguments abundantly clearly but are we getting to the point where for Team New Zealand, there is just no other viable option? Spain could be the only way out but would it, could it, should it solve the Defender’s problems?
Over the weekend the new Formula 1 calendar was released for 2022 and they’ll be visiting China, Russia, Azerbaijan, Abu Dhabi, Bahrain, Jeddah and of course, that tax haven of Monaco as is lore in this high octane game. Does the sport blink? Well the pilots are starting to make waves but they know it’s a global business and they are just highly-paid pawns in a money-making machine where their voices and protest alters little. The Cup may well be headed into a world that’s very difficult to extricate from. Once you’re dancing with the devil, it’s very hard to stop.
All we can do now is hurry up and wait. The jungle drums are that this week could be a big one in the Cup. The delayed Alinghi/Red Bull announcement and the venue unveil could reveal a very different playing field and a lot of pieces could fall into place quickly. Delay into November and the feeling is that the vacuum will fill with more problems – problems that the Defender could well do without.
Kiwis have a habit of going from the ropes to knock-out punch so it’s all eyes on Team New Zealand and Grant Dalton.
Expect fireworks…it’s nearly that season after all.