Bullet Dodged?

“An interesting inbox” is how a very good friend, and top class female champion, surmised to me recently was of my possession. Most weeks it’s just press releases, pretty much dull as ditchwater but this week it’s been fascinating. Looking back and mentally drawing a word-cloud from the various communications platforms that I make myself available on, I’ve noticed a shift and if we look at the five accepted stages of grief as being: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance, I could make a reasoned argument that the majority of those that lost in the America’s Cup venue decision are well down the cycle.

©ACE / Stefano Gattini

“I’m bloody delighted mate that the Cup has gone, we’ve got plenty more problems to fix than a bunch of yotties (sic) sailing in a race,” opined one. “No-one’s really talking about this apart from the politicians in the lamestream media,” said another. “I wish them good luck…” said many…”we dodged a bullet on that one.” And these are from what I call ‘normal’ people who’s opinions I value most highly – I’m not wholly interested in what fat cats and those that like the sound of their own voice think on this one. To take the temperature in New Zealand with any accuracy, it’s the quiet ones that matter.

©ACE / Carlo Borlenghi

Now that’s not to say that there isn’t ‘disappointment’ and on a word-cloud that would feature prominently, but the sense I get is that the reasoned are moving on. Barcelona will be terrific and the Cup is sailing into very new territories right across its estate. It will be a watershed event for the Cup. It will access new markets. It will be a media wall of sound. It will be funded and it will be epic competition for our sport’s greatest prize. And at a sporting level, Team New Zealand is a preposterously mighty proposition selling New Zealand to the world with roots right back in the Viaduct Basin. The people that take the time to make contact are no fools. They can see what’s happening.

Government officials can say what they like. Mayors can opine until the cows (Cowes?) come home. Relics of the past can blather in a well of recrimination and points scoring. But the simple truth is that they don’t speak for the majority and are somewhat tainted by a history in the competition that makes their motives questionable or at the very least questioned. The ruckus brewing at the Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron is unseemly but I doubt whether it will amount to much. The pre-announcement threat of legal action and of dragging the Cup through the courts for an eternity has, it would seem, dissipated almost as fast as it came.

©ACE / Carlo Borlenghi

A sigh of relief? No, more of resignation and the mainstream news outlets had better be attuned to overstatement in order not to alienate their audiences. ‘News’ or ‘Reportage’ at its basest form should be reflective of the audience that it serves and not something with a hidden agenda. I know that’s idealism encapsulated in hope but on the issue of the Cup venue decision I very much feel that rocks are being turned over in the expectation of finding scandal when in effect, and in reality, there is none. Time then to move the reportage forward and see what encouraging and amazing things are being done under the flag and in the name of New Zealand.

Stuff’s happening that is great. Dials are being moved. And I can tell you, the billionaires of the other four (hopefully five) challenging syndicates are brutally aware of the task ahead of them to beat Team New Zealand. On paper, and from all the evidence we can gather, the Kiwis are out-right favourites with even more fire in their belly to prove the doubters wrong. Back a Kiwi into a corner, or even worse, paint them as the underdog and underestimate them and they come back with fire and fury. The best rope-a-dopers in history, no-one’s falling for it this time, and everyone’s worried about what they will do.

©ACE / Studio Borlenghi

That’s a cause I could easily get behind as a patriot if I were lucky enough to have been born in the land of the white cloud and I genuinely think the man-on-the- street will. That, or the Cup will be treated with indifference in this wonderful sporting nation and that’s the fine line they tread with the decision to take the event to Barcelona.

The noise will abate. The story-well will run dry. Yes there will always be questions to answer but if you’re looking for mal-intent, it couldn’t be further from the truth. The new dawn is bright and its leading stars are set to shine. History, I believe, will record the decisions made this week as being far-sighted and visionary and the thing with that is that we ordinary sailing folk tend not to see what others do until it’s presented before us. The gun has fired at the start of an epic chapter and it will be breathtaking in its execution.

The America’s Cup is dead. Long live the America’s Cup.

2 thoughts on “Bullet Dodged?

  1. The Turks & Caicos Sailing Association was rooting for Cork as an outlier, but Barcelona is a perfect choice that should please all palates.

    Having seen the way the Kiwis rallied in Bermuda, all dissension will be forgotten in the lead up to AC37.

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  2. I wonder, perhaps, if it’s the beginning of a more ambivalent, “American” tone in NZ coverage of the AC, the “just call them Team Emirates” editorial is reminiscent of how it almost always *was* just “Team Oracle” everywhere but in official press releases, and the “I respect the crew but not their boss” rhetoric is also quite familiar for an American who became enmeshed in the fandom in 2016.

    In his recent Radio NZ interview, either Peter Montgomery or the interviewer mentioned how editions with “villains” like Conner, Coutts, Butterworth, etc. made the experience for NZ fans “theater”, and I think that’s a good term. There is no denying that there has been an overtone of melodrama to local coverage of NZ in the America’s Cup since almost the beginning, a very clear mythic narrative of good vs evil.

    As I’ve mentioned before, there are actual sociological papers about this (and one hundred-page graduate thesis!) mostly in the context of 2000-2003. There’s the famous Herald editorial “Sailor of Fortune” with lines like “all she sees in Coutts’ cold eyes are the virtues of a mercenary” and “he will smile, but is that just a showing of teeth before he bites our faces off?”. And as recently as December, Butterworth’s position with Alinghi for AC 37 was announced as “Brad Butterworth is back plotting Team New Zealand’s downfall”.

    Language like this paints these men, regardless of their actual flaws or virtues, as cartoon villains— or even worse, after all, in one piece during AC 33, Bertarelli was described as “darker than Darth Vader”.

    Now, of course melodrama has its own appeal. The most popular movies in the world are about fantastic superheroes battling dastardly supervillains. As a comic book nerd, I admit I sometimes enjoy reading NZ AC coverage as if it *were* a comic book because of this melodramatic quality. It’s Peter Burling instead of Peter Parker and Larry Ellison instead of Lex Luthor!

    But this narrative seems to be struggling with a situation like the current one. An image of Team New Zealand as always perfectly good, patriotic, and harmonious, who can only defeated by the technology and filthy lucre of dastardly outsiders, insidious traitors, or both, seems insufficient for the reality of internal tensions and troubles with the government in the past year. If they always get along and can do no wrong, we would not have seen the controversial venue negotiations and months of acrimony over whether Tuke and Burling would re-sign.

    We shall see what form the Team NZ fanbase and media coverage take over the course of AC 37, but it seems that on some level, it is likely to be more nuanced and realistic than in past editions. Team New Zealand may still be national icons, but with their warts and flaws more visible. We have seen a moment of dis-enchantment and perhaps the narrative is a fairy tale no more.

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