Donald Digby

When most people think of the America’s Cup they think of wealthy men sailing around in expensive boats representing exclusive clubs where members gather to cluck cluck and tut-tut about whatever topic is current while enjoying a drop of their favourite tipple. Something that happens for a few weeks every 4 years; it seems so sporting, gentlemanly and fun to watch but once the racing stops so does the music, at least for most people.

Well, what if I told you that what happens behind the curtains and backstage is brutal. You see, far from being a pursuit of gentlemen, it’s full of backstabbing, double-crossing, head butting, butt-kicking, heavy-handed politics and legalese. To operate in this environment you need steel in your spine and ice in your veins. Get it wrong and the America’s Cup will chew you up, ruin your career, squander your fortune, crush your dreams. It’s the big boy sandpit, full of self-interest, and the players are playing for keeps; the winner gets to write the rules. It’s ruthless and awesome and I love it, if you love politics then you should love the America’s Cup.

So now the 37th America’s Cup is officially underway and it’s already providing epic theatre and then some. But first a quick re-cap. TNZ won 7-3 with a score line that probably flattered the Italians, their boat was widely regarded as being a light air boat and it ended up being a light air regatta. Once the final race was over and the Cup was locked away, the Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron (RNZYS) and TNZ accepted the challenge from the Royal Yacht Squadron Racing (RYSR) and Team Ineos.

Becoming Challenger of Record (CoR) was a necessity for Ineos, their yacht was a poor design and their planning was weak. In an event where you need to keep getting faster and faster right till it’s over, Ineos were so slow they needed to bring all their tricks online early just to stay alive. So by becoming CoR they would have input into the final Protocol that would govern the racing for the 37th Cup. Ineos will say they did it because of a shared vision with TNZ and a desire to continue the development of this historic event which is, of course, rubbish. They did it to get a sneak peak of what the design rules would look like and where the racing would take place, essentially trying to leapfrog the gap in design between their boat and the rest.

Once the Challenge was accepted TNZ were faced with the same problems they always have at this part of the Cup cycle, you need two things to win the Cup, time and money, and money can’t buy you time. Having the fastest boat meant TNZ has a bit of time up their sleeve, maybe a 12-18 month head start, but the problem is the money.

In 2020 the challenging teams were spending about $200 million. Now TNZ are the masters of delivering performance on tight budgets but that only works to a certain extent, you don’t need to match the big spenders on things like marketing and whatnot but you do need to match them on design and technology.  It was clear the current NZ Government would not come to the party, they were offering $100 million which was largely “in kind” payments, the actual cold hard cash level was closer to $30 million. The TNZ title sponsor Emirates is an airline trying to operate in a global pandemic.

So, reluctantly, Grant Dalton and TNZ had to consider taking the Cup defense offshore in a bid to raise enough money. It’s not ideal but first and foremost their goal is to retain the Cup and to do that they need to keep TNZ alive. If they don’t have enough money the big boys will swoop in, stealing the talent and the I.P. Of course accepting that the 37th Cup will not happen in NZ has been hard to stomach in some quarters.

You will have seen the emergence of the Home Defence brigade, claiming they had the money to fund an Auckland defence conditional on Dalton stepping aside. Yes really, they wanted the guy that just won it twice to step aside. Unfortunately for them, it seems they may not have been playing straight with Dalton and TNZ who are accusing them of allegedly going behind RNZYS and TNZ back to the New York Yacht Club (NYYC)  asking them to somehow challenge the validity of the RYSR and Ineos as CoR. Pie in the sky stuff really and the best bit is it would seem the NYYC promptly told TNZ about what the Home Defense was up to.

Meanwhile, Home Defence was busy trying to force a Special General Meeting at the RNZYS to make a defence in Auckland binding to TNZ. This is probably a desperate measure and looks to have been withdrawn, largely because Dalton said he wont let TNZ compete without the necessary funds. And at that you have to take Dalton at his word, he’s a Houdini at pulling money out of thin air and if he says it can’t be done in Auckland then put your house on it. Frankly the Home Defence looks a lot like the infamous Blackheart Campaign of 2001 which proved to be one of the sadder parts of NZ and TNZs long history in Cup racing.

If You Love Politics Then You Should Love the America’s Cup
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