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America's Cup: Ireland told to be 'more ambitious' on AC37 Venue Hosting bid

by Richard Gladwell/Sail-World NZ 17 Sep 07:22 PDT 18 September 2021
The AC37 Challenger and Defender - December, 2020 - Waitemata Harbour © Richard Gladwell / Sail-World.com / nz

Cork-born, New York resident Marcus Spillane believes Ireland needs to expand its thinking on the hosting of the America's Cup.

Spillane, a Director of World Sailing, the sport's world governing body, notes the Ryder Cup will be held in Adare, in nearby County Limerick, in 2027 - a couple of years after the projected America's Cup dates in 2023/24.

He believes that linking the prestigious golf tournament with the 2024 America's Cup regatta is a "beautiful opportunity to leverage the two events - so one helps the other, and make it a showcase for Ireland, as we exit COVID."

The America's Cup and Ryder Cup events also dovetail with the Global 2025 strategy, launched in 2018, and now promoted by Foreign Minister Simon Coveney to expand Ireland's global footprint and reconnect with the diaspora of 70million people around the world who claim Irish descent.

In recent days, Spillane says that he has been contacted by people asking why the America's Cup hosting bid, in which Ireland was believed to be the preferred candidate, has been navigated into the doldrums by the bureaucrats.

"I'm saying we've got to be more ambitious," Spillane told Sail-World from New York. "We've got to really think about how we position ourselves in the world. We've got to be credible to people who view Ireland as a good place to come and negotiate [for the Cup hosting] and not be left at the altar, at the last minute."

"My point is simply saying - this is a global event. Sure, E150million is a lot of money, but it is up to us to make the best of it and make a return. There is no question that if you do it right, you can make a return."

"We have to look at it with a can-do attitude rather than with a no ambition, too costly, and we don't know if this is a good use of exchequer funds, thinking."

A former Class President and competitor in the Olympic 49er class, Spillane. was elected late last year as one of seven Vice-Presidents in a clean-out at the top echelon of the world governing body of the sport.

A chartered accountant by training, he specialises in entrepreneurship, business strategy, and development in his professional life.

"Cork is so ideally suited for this America's Cup, and for more than just timing reasons", Spillane says. "Some of the developments that have taken place in the harbour over the last ten years mean there are perfect setups if Cork was selected.

"Part of the €150m [Cup hosting price tag] is already earmarked for the infrastructure upgrade projects that would be part of the America's Cup. Yes, they would be fast-tracked, but the expenditure is there already in the plan."

"That is no different, I suspect than some of the carry-on in New Zealand [over the cost of the infrastructure for the 2021 America's Cup]."

"The only people who can stand up to this are the people who it impacts - the people on the ground in Ireland, who think the America's Cup would be a phenomenal event.

Having seen media reports that the venue selection process was going into extra time, Spillane says the Irish bid team needs to focus on "taking the next six weeks to make the best of it. Let's try and get the type of information the Dept of Sport wants. Let's give them everything we can."

"Part of the problem in Ireland is a perception that this is as an elite sailing and yachting regatta. What they are missing is that the America's Cup is much more than a global sailing event.

"But that is not the bid we are selling - which is that there are two years of lead up. The teams coming to Cork, living there, training there and looking at the venue, and the stuff you can leverage off the side of the America's Cup, rather than just the sailing piece as a stand-alone."

"There's a bit of education to be done there in my view," he added.

Most of the 11th-hour problems with the Irish indecision seem to be embedded in the nation's political mix. The largest party, the left-leaning Sinn Fein party, is neutered in the political process by a coalition of two centre-right parties and the Greens.

"Sinn Fein very much views the America's Cup as an elite competition, but I think they are smart enough to realise that is a convenient label for them and that the America's Cup is an event which could be leveraged. But it suits them in their constituency to label this in a certain way."

"Part of the challenge in the final run-up over the past few weeks has been to make people realise that the America's Cup is a global sporting event."

In his role of President of the 49er, 49erFX and Nacra 17 classes, Spillane was in Auckland for the combined World Championships of the three Olympic classes in Auckland in December 2019. Emirates Team New Zealand sailing their first AC75 amongst the three Olympic classes on the Waitemata Harbour was a common sight.

When asked to overlay that view of the AC75 sailing over the backdrop of Cork harbour, Spillane replied, "I think that would be awesome! I know the course areas where they plan to race, and it would be genuinely spectacular."

Spillane says he was "gutted" to see the impact that COVID had on the 2021 America's Cup regattas held in Auckland. "That doesn't help when trying to sell the populous on the next round. But if it was to be anywhere else then, I'm saying that Cork would be a magic spot."

"Ireland and New Zealand share many, many similarities. Cork would be a nice second option for New Zealand if they couldn't hold it in Auckland. I'm not part of the Irish bid, but I would love to see it go there!"

"We need to encourage our politicians to think bigger," he concluded.

Spillane says that in recent days he has been contacted by people asking why the America's Cup hosting bid, which was believed to be the preferred candidate, has been steered into the doldrums by the bureaucrats.

"I'm saying Ireland has to be more ambitious. We've got to think about how we position ourselves in the world. We've got to be credible to people who view Ireland as a good place to come and negotiate [for the Cup hosting] and not be left at the altar, at the last minute."

"My point is simply saying - this is a global event. Sure €150million is a lot of money, but it is up to us to make the best of it and make a return. There is no question that if you do it right, you can make a return."

"We have to look at it with a can-do attitude rather than with a 'no ambition, too costly, and we don't know if this is a good use of exchequer funds', type of thinking."

As a sidebar to Spillane's comments, the Irish Examiner reports that "Ireland is expected to be told today that a team of international regatta experts is on standby to provide any advice or guidance that the state may require."

In New Zealand, the holders, Emirates Team New Zealand and Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron, have announced they are extending the Venue Hosting bid consideration process. No new date has been set. The primary reason for the extension is that the country has been in a COVID-19 lockdown for five weeks. Like all non-essential businesses, the team must isolate themselves at their homes and cannot meet face to face.

The team are also hopeful of getting a couple of Managed Isolation and Quarantine spaces in Monday's ballot, so two team members can leave New Zealand with the certainty of being allowed to return. The intention is that the team can check the Match venues and proposed arrangements before making a Venue decision.

Currently, there is no exit strategy from the closed borders policy imposed by the NZ Government. Most international sporting tours are being cancelled, the latest of which is the Men's Hockey team, who today cancelled all tours until June 2022 at the least, due to being unable to re-enter New Zealand because of the shortage of MIQ places that align precisely with heavily reduced flight schedules.

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