A week ago, New Zealand was dead in the water. Geographically on the back foot, protests at Parliament, stuck in a pandemic, hampered by second-rate political decisions and over-zealous posturing from politicians and at the mercy of sports sponsors and investors who all want more bang for their buck. But never count the underdog out. Never call a Kiwi down. I’ve done it, I’ll admit, and every time I’m wrong.
You know I’m the biggest fan of the country, its people, its sportsmen and women, their attitude, their never say die approach and its whole raison d’etre. It’s a fabulous part of the world and right now, with war in Europe that has every chance of escalating, as every hour passes the thought and possibility of an America’s Cup back in New Zealand is getting more and more attractive. I’d be on that plane in a heartbeat.
To be abundantly clear – I’m not shilling for the Kiwi Home Defence. I’m not shilling for the Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron. I’m not shilling for Team New Zealand, Grant Dalton or the country itself. What I’m saying, from the helicopter vantage point that is an independent commentator’s right, is that a Cup in Europe, attractive as that always sounds to this British mind, is looking at best increasingly unlikely and at worst, downright irresponsible.
The whole notion could well be a casualty, collateral damage if you like, of war on our doorstep. As a concerned citizen, right now I’m not sensing that Europe is a welcoming place to largesse of the type that the Cup serves and we could be in for years more of this. Focus is elsewhere. Politics has shifted and a blind-eye can’t be cast to what’s happening. Change is swinging in the wind.
Grant Dalton will feel the tension as he arrives in Europe. Sorry, but it’s a new world. Personally I would feel uncomfortable now if the Cup gets awarded to Ireland, Spain or even Britain and you have to think that the Middle East is possibly the only place now outside of New Zealand that can reasonably be left on the table – but even that’s a stretch. Yes oil is above the $100 a barrel mark so the budgets are more than balanced in the Gulf States but do we really want an America’s Cup, the apex of our sport, sold to a sportswash? The feeling I get from readers, sailors, competitors and fellow commentators is ‘no’ and that selling-out to the Arabs, despite the compelling Team New Zealand argument to the contrary, is a step too far.
So New Zealand thunders back into view and with the Kiwi Home Defence ramping up their PR, the tide is turning at the edges. I’m not convinced, however, that it’s turning in the direction of the KHD organisation itself. That ship sailed a while ago along with trust. No, the tide if it truly is turning will be turning towards New Zealand but with a different algorithm to secure the contest on the home waters of the Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron. And if it does, I think everyone breathes a sigh of relief.
The clever deal to be done here is a slimmed down regatta for the actual Match in Auckland with a world series where events last a week at a maximum. Fly into Cagliari and out again. Fly into Valencia and out again. Fly into Newport and out again. You get my drift? The challenger series should be as global as is feasible and possible to find the ultimate team that goes up against Team New Zealand in Auckland. The AC40’s do the same essentially aping the format, so the Women’s AC and the Youth AC finals are all held as warm-up regattas in Auckland to the main event perhaps over a two month period. Two teams, two bases, slimmed-down periphery and organisation and get on with it.
2024 sounds ambitious but do-able. Perhaps it will be shifted out to 2025 as is the rumour but who knows? It’s a different Cup in different times. Post pandemic and amidst war in Europe, the Cup community would be thankful for New Zealand’s largesse and if they don’t like it, lump it. It would be the biggest show on earth – it always is.
And how the money is found for Team New Zealand to compete is a square that the best money-raiser in sports will have to circle. The pledging benefactors in the media will almost certainly not be involved. Smart private money and even smarter commercial sponsorship deals will have to be struck face to face and this argument, difficult as it is to argue against, will have to be annulled perhaps with sovereign wealth, perhaps by individuals, perhaps by commercial means.
It’s the pressure point that has been the ace in the pack for Grant Dalton, one that’s carefully constructed, but one that only he can truly answer and solve such is the lack of information around what’s really happening behind the scenes. And trust me, it’s all happening out of the glare of the media – as it should.
There’s a window of opportunity right now that’s opening for New Zealand to do this deal. The curtain of opportunity in Europe is closing fast. Politicians are running from the sunny sporting uplands of post pandemic regeneration to the bunker. Reality is biting. The odds to hold the Cup in New Zealand are shortening by the hour. The opportunity should be seized and with the full ‘A Team’ back in situ at Team New Zealand as Pete Burling and Blair Tuke saw the light and re-signed, and with the borders finally opening up again, there’s more than enough reason to think that the sensible and right option is a Cup, a slimmed down version, on home waters.
It would be a different Cup. It would be a measured event. It would be shorn of the bloat that the Cup has become but it would be everything. I think it’s the deal that must be done rather than can or should be done.
“Kaua rawa e mate” – Never say Die, as the Maori’s say…