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America's Cup: Spanish get traction with proposal to reactivate Valencia as AC37 venue

by Richard Gladwell/ 3 Sep 2021 07:00 PDT 4 September 2021
The replica of the legendary `America`, visits Port America's Cup Valencia - `The Foredeck` was built especially for the 2007 America's Cup © ACM 2007 /Guido Trombetta

Sail-World's sources in Valencia say they have made "unexpected progress" over the past couple of weeks and are confident they have a good proposal for the hosting of the next America's Cup.

The 37th America's Cup Venue decision is due in two weeks, and it will likely be a virtual announcement given that Auckland will still be locked down, probably at the most severe Level 4.

Nominally there are four bids under consideration: Auckland, Jeddah, Cork and Valencia. Plus, there could still be a wild card venue in play, as the Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron has not released an official short-list.

It is hard to see how an America's Cup can work in Jeddah, given that Saudi Arabia has several prohibitions, including one on the consumption of beer, wine or champagne. There is also a strict dress code that precludes men from wearing shorts and a few other issues. Whether the Saudi's are prepared to create an America's Cup bubble to allow the regatta to operate as normal remains to be seen, one assumes that there is no shortage of money. The old town is a world heritage site. Wind strength and air temperature are also issues, given that under the Deed of Gift, a Match cannot be sailed between November 1 and May 1.

The real battle would seem to be between Valencia and Cork.

Valencia, with its infrastructure all in place, would appear to be the safe option. A key factor will obviously be the amount of the financial package, given the number of Valencian digits burned by the financial blowout from the construction of the infrastructure for the 2007 America's Cup.

Although many of the team bases from the 2007 America's Cup are still around the Darcena, they have been taken over by marine businesses. The plan is for the team bases to be constructed on a new, already built concrete area with a road behind it. The AC75's will be craned straight into the water off the edge of the base wall as they were in Auckland. Currently, it houses Alinghi 5, the 120ft catamaran that was the Defender in the 33rd America's Cup, with one of the Swiss team's IACC yachts astern of it, along with Alinghi 5's mainmast.

If more space is required, there are several other filled and near-completed apron areas.

Grandstands will be built on top of a breakwater on the edge of the racecourse. No big screens will be needed in Valencia - but will probably be there anyway. While getting the "reasonable" financial package together is never easy, there are said to be multi-national companies now involved who understand the sailing sponsorship game.

The driver for the Valencia 2024 is to build a legacy program, that was overlooked in the aftermath of 2007 when Mayor Rita Barberá was landed with fabulous old port redevelopment, expecting the America's Cup to stay in Spain for another cycle. It did, but the 2010 Deed of Gift Match 30 sailed miles offshore in the Spanish winter was not what she had in mind.

The plan is to use the America's Cup to put in place what should have been done 17 years earlier - and give those who have invested in the original development the chance to generate a return.

The primary task is getting the Local, Regional and National government bodies to agree on hosting the Cup.

Cork has more work to do on the infrastructure, but its ace card is the Foreign Minister Simon Coveney - a senior minister in the coalition Government, with his hand on a lot of levers, comes from one of Ireland's top sailing families - which makes for a straightforward conversation - quite a different dialogue that with the multiplicity of so-called stakeholders involved in the 36th America's Cup.

Not having an enthusiastic Minister for the America's Cup appointed for the 2021 America's Cup, was a serious mistake in New Zealand. There needs to be a person of the senior standing of Simon Coveney in the Government, who can provide leadership and bang the heads of bureaucrats if necessary. In the America's Cup Event Ltd report on AC36 it was noted that some meetings had over 40 stakeholders present. That is not an efficient process.

The Hon Phil Twyford was appointed for the 2021 America's Cup, he was extremely disappointing as an effective Minister - underlined by his demotion from being #4 in the Ardern led Government prior to the 2020 election, to being outside the 20 person Cabinet of Ministers afterward.

For the 2000-2003 America's Cups, the current Speaker and America's Cup enthusiast Trevor Mallard was in the role for the 2000-2003 Cups, and was the Minister who negotiated the two ETNZ sponsorship contract for the America's Cups in 2007 and 2013. Indeed Mallard has retained his relationship with the team as a volunteer through the 36th America's Cup, when Parliamentary duties permitted. He frequently wears America's Cup ties when adjudicating Parliament in his current role of Speaker.

Even when the Cup was briefly held in 1988 by New Zealand, the highly enthusiastic Mike Moore was appointed as Minister for the America's Cup, and got enabling legislation through Parliament and into law within the three month tenure.

Auckland excluded by Covid policy

With an announcement due two weeks from today, it is hard to understand how Auckland could be named the venue even with an acceptable hosting package in place.

In fact, being able to guarantee staging of the event in an unmodified form, at least for an international TV audience is probably the key factor in a bid. Having been burned with the cancellation of two America's Cup World Series events in 2020, and copping two lockdowns in Auckland ETNZ/RNZYS will need strong commitments in this regard, and probably an underwrite. With the venue choice still in gestation ETNZ/RNZYS will be keen to avoid a situation where politicians can make a macro-COVID decision without any exception for events which have made a substantial commercial outlay not able to be covered by insurance.

With New Zealand still pursuing an elimination strategy, and severe lockdowns being a tool almost of first resort, the New Zealand environment is not particularly attractive at present for event organisers of any hue.

Currently, Auckland is in a Level-4 lockdown - a situation expected to be in place for another two weeks, with one leading epidemiologist predicting that the city could be locked down for months if the elimination strategy fails.

This week, the NZ Government called a time out on accepting applications for Managed Isolation and Quarantine places. All places are taken until the end of November, and those for December are yet to be announced. Everyone entering New Zealand has to go through a 14 day stay in MIQ.

Earlier the NZ Government had declined the application of SailGP NZ organisers for 170 MIQ places for mid-January.

In short, there is no room at the Kiwi MIQ Inn.

Both American Magic and INEOS Team UK still have their bases in Auckland, on Wynyard Point, containing their AC75's and sailing gear.

The teams elected to leave the gear in Auckland until the AC37 venue announcement. The thought was that if Auckland was confirmed as the venue, they could come back to New Zealand and export the boats back to the UK and USA. Or, they could start their AC37 test program and commence test sailing in Auckland, checking their AC36 test data against any design enhancements/settings they may have made.

But they cannot do that because of the lack of MIQ places in New Zealand.

One option is to use NZ resident sailors from the teams, like Dean Barker with American Magic, which would preserve design confidentiality. Or to get other Kiwi sailors to do the break-down/export for them. There is precedent - the NZ Government decision-makers suggested substituting international sailors with Kiwis for the scuppered Youth America's Cup. However, that scenario is most unlikely to be followed.

The hypothetical situation is that if RNZYS named Auckland as the AC37 venue on September 17, then because of MIQ restrictions, the US/UK America's Cup teams would not be able to sail here until January at best and most likely the whole summer.

That would then create the hypothetical situation as to whether Emirates Team New Zealand could do any sailing - of their AC75 or test boat - this summer in Auckland if the two other teams were effectively blocked from entering NZ, and could not test sail.

As soon as the Arbitration Panel were constituted the UK/USA teams would have a very strong complaint arguing that RNZYS/ETNZ were, or should have been aware that there was a high chance international teams would not be able to sail in Auckland when the AC37 venue was announced on September 17, 2021. If the precedent is followed from the cancelled 2017 Qualifiers in Auckland, then a no-sail period would be imposed on the New Zealand team and maybe Luna Rossa, until the other two teams could get into New Zealand and access their boats.

Of course, if one of the other three venues is named, then RNZYS/ETNZ are off the hook - as clearly it was the UK/USA teams decision to leave gear in Auckland, and nothing to do with the Kiwi team or Italian team for that matter.

With the existing teams only allowed to build one new boat for AC37, sailing in their second generation AC75 will be an important factor ahead of the next Cup.

Having their gear locked up in New Zealand costs both teams valuable test time - always a scarce commodity in any America's Cup.

With just 27 Covid deaths since March 2020 and keen to preserve its low death rate, there is no announced plan for New Zealand to be able to exit its current Covid elimination strategy. It remains to be seen when visitors will be allowed to enter New Zealand, who are at least double-jabbed, without quarantine, as is under way in the EU.

Free entry using the EU protocol is likely to be in place for both European venues for the 2024 America's Cup.

In the likely situation that Auckland does not get the hosting rights for AC37 - a situation that could only be contemplated with a guarantee, which won't be given, for unfettered Cup fans, media, superyachts, team families and officials - the City of Sails only has itself to blame.

They could easily have taken a leaf out of the Irish proposal and put together a national Covid recovery plan geared around the America's Cup, and the publicity it generates. In fact the Government could have done the same for AC36, hitting the near 1billion viewing audience.

In fact it would seem that the Irish have borrowed heavily from the New Zealand Government's sponsorship of Emirates Team New Zealand in 2007 and 2013, where NZ Inc took one of the major sponsorship positions on the IACC boat and then on the AC72 in San Francisco.

It's a strange old world, and maybe not beyond the realms of possibility that with the same party in Government, as in 2003, that the same could happen again in Valencia or Cork in 2024, but somehow we don't think so.

For those interested here are official Govt reports into the spend in 2007 (Valencia) and 2013 (San Francisco).

In the concluded debate into whether and how much the NZ Government should spend on the America's Cup Hosting it is forgotten that New Zealand gained a windfall of half a billion dollars in each of the 2000 America's Cup and 2003 America's Cups - for an outlay of just a few hundred thousand dollars for obtaining a licence to use the America's Cup Marks (words and symbol which are protected by copyright).

While there was a lot of money spent on developing the area around what is now the Viaduct Harbour for the 2000 and 2003 America's Cups that valuable property was effectively sold afterwards, recouping most if not all of the expenditure as well as providing ongoing rates payments to Auckland Council.

Also forgotten is that while an America's Cup is generally considered to be a rich-mans' sport, it is heavily tied to the New Zealand Marine and composites engineering industry with an annual turnover of $2.5billion - with all the employment and tax generation that brings.

Auckland and New Zealand will surely rue the lackadaisical approach and opportunity missed over the hosting of the 37th America's Cup.

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