Mousetrap. Snakes & Ladders. Cluedo. Monopoly. Bring them all together in a virtual reality Metaverse and you have the America’s Cup venue bidding war in a nutshell. As we get to the business end of the decision, it sounds like one door is opening as others close with the bidders lining up like desperate financiers circling an Oligarch’s prize asset. Rugs are being pulled, mis-steps occurring, geo-politics is in play and a war of local words is a gnats whisker from erupting. The Cup is on tenterhooks. Great isn’t it?
And it’s big business firmly at play too with the Qatari’s looking in pole position to secure the future of Team New Zealand through the medium of clever middle-men in Spain. Barcelona is reportedly back in the frame and don’t forget that the Qatar Sports Group has a rather significant interest in that City’s football team. Malaga is still right there in the running, and guess who owns that city’s football club? Throw a blanket over the Costa del Sol and there’s gas money everywhere like a giant vampire squid jabbing its tentacles into the investment world, desperately trying to find a long term yield. The America’s Cup will do just fine and be a very welcome guest on the Costa Al Arabia.
And plugged into this shady matrix are the key players of the Cup world, busy jetting from venue to venue, glad-handing and eyeballing the prospective venues with one eye on the prevailing weather conditions and another on the cheque-book whilst keeping the sailing world in suspense and holding their breath on the Ukraine situation.
Saudi Arabia is now surely done as the ‘back-up’ and no amount of blank cheques will alter what we heard over the weekend. That race is run and global sport needs to look deep into its soul now to decide whether patronage of that regime is palatable any longer. Geo-politics of energy supply and specifically oil production seems to trump the humanitarian but a Cup in Jeddah? Count me out now.
And whilst the sensible decision is to ice the venue decision, the Protocol will prevail. The veil of the very simple fact that almost all major sports events in Europe are continuing and Force Majeure has not been enacted by any of the Blue Riband calendar events, will mean that we should all buy the popcorn, sit back and await an announcement in a fortnight’s time from the Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron.
Kiwis will be furious. Just as the country emerges from a vicious lockdown and wants a glimmer of hope, sadly it will be denied. A call to rally around the greatest sports team ever to grace the America’s Cup may well fall on deaf ears for a while. Questions will be asked in Parliament. Figureheads will be shot at in the media. Tall Poppy’s will be chopped but Team New Zealand will secure the funding and accelerate their advantage, that I would estimate at 6-9 months, over the rest of the Cup field. For the rest, they know the target but largely they are clueless as to how to bridge it. Throw money at the problem? Yes they’ll do that but people win the America’s Cup and on that score, Team New Zealand is already over the horizon.
I was asked this morning on TVNZ what should Kiwi’s do. My advice is get angry, get frustrated, but rally to the cause. It’s a heck of a cause. The all-time greatest winning machine in Cup history, taking on the flash-cash, money-no-object, all-comers is a tantalising prospect no matter where in the world the game is played.
View it from the lens of a Brit where success has eluded for almost 200 years of trying and you’d see it very differently. We’d take Grant Dalton and TNZ any day and put them on the highest of high pedestals. This is the Cup’s OE and I would look to the future. Never again should the Cup go overseas. Plan for 2028. Bring the Cup back to the Hauraki Gulf. This race is done. Yes there’s every chance of AC40’s blasting around next summer in New Zealand but the 75s will be hunkered down in Europe.
At least that’s what it feels like today. Tomorrow could be different. If things escalate at the hands of a kleptocratic madman then all bets could be off. But the early signs are there of containment and that’s the green-light for the Qatari’s to activate. Awash with western dollars as the price of a therm goes stratospheric, this is once in a generation stuff for the moderate state to get a stranglehold on Spanish investments. I can almost hear the money-men at the Sovereign Wealth funds whooping at their good fortune. It’s as though Christmas Day has come early. And for the Spanish City’s bidding, it’s going to get ugly. Spanish politics is fraught with back-room deals and intrigue at the best of times but with Expos to promote and fanciful bids for the Winter Olympics, the gloves are off.
Where it ends up is still a conversation for the birds but I think we know now where it won’t be or at least where it shouldn’t be and that’s a mighty relief. My hunch is a straight fight between Malaga and Barcelona for the heavyweight sailing championship of the world. But with two weeks to go, anything, quite literally anything, could happen.