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America's Cup: Pace picks up on AC37 venue selection - multiple venues in play

by Richard Gladwell/Sail-World NZ 2 Jan 22:40 PST 3 January 2022
Looking down the River Lee, Cork, with the proposed Race Village area on the rightLooking down the River Lee, Cork, with the proposed Race Village area on the right © Ministry of Sport, Ireland

The Irish city of Cork has been revisited by the evaluation team, advising Emirates Team New Zealand on their options for hosting the 37th America's Cup, expected to be in 2024.

The move comes after a similar visit in mid-June 2021, to the initial venue proposed by the Irish Foreign Affairs, based around the Doyle Shipyard at Doyle Shipping Group's Cork Dockyard. While the Doyle Shipyard is much closer to the racing areas proposed for the 37th America's Cup, the America's Cup village would still have been located in the City centre - 13nm from the racing area.

The latest visit reported in the Irish Examiner is believed to be part of a New Year review of all venues by the UK based team advising the America's Cup champions, who under the current Protocol for AC37 have to announce a venue before the end of March 2021.

Part of the review process is to look at rejuvenation plans for the locations, which can be accelerated by the requirement for the new venue to be ready at least six months before the America's Cup.

The upcoming venue announcement is a critical one for several potential teams, who are expected to be commercially backed, and may have issues if the Saudi Arabian city of Jeddah is selected as a venue.

Details of the second Irish proposal were leaked to the Irish Examiner in by sources believed to be within the Irish Ministry of Sport, in late November, 2021.

Two Irish government departments are involved in the bid which was led initially by Simon Coveney, Minister for Foreign Affairs. He is the #3 ranked Minister in the Irish Coalition Government. Coveney comes from a strong yachting background, being a competitive sailor himself. His father Hugh Coveney was one of the driving forces behind the development of Irish offshore sailing and Admirals Cup competition.

The other party, now heavily involved in the bid is the Irish Ministry of Sport, led by the Green Party's Catherine Martin.

When details of the first proposal broke, it was initially pooh-poohed by what were believed to be Ministry of Sport sources, on the basis of cost - which later revealed three scenarios variously costed at €200 - €600million. However it is believed those costings were produced using a similar process to that used by the NZ Government report which put the cost of the 36th America's Cup at a ludicrous NZD$770million - one of the assumptions made in that report was to load all the infrastructure costs against the one event, ignoring any legacy value of the works.

The Irish cost for a venue based around the Cork City Centre has now been revised down to €50million.

A further point of concern was that the first proposal put funding into the redevelopment of a privately owned asset, while the second proposal invests into the politically more acceptable redevelopment of publicly owned assets.

Reviews of the options by the Ministry of Sport, on their favoured option have pulled the cost and return on investment, into a situation where the return is a positive one - legally required under Irish law before sign-off can be made by the Ministry of Sport.

While the Irish venue may be getting the publicity, and are understood to be well advanced, Sail-World understands that multiple venues are still in play, with the busy Spanish port of Malaga reported to be one of the options.

Although Emirates Team New Zealand are being assisted in their venue quest by UK sports consultancy, Origin Sports, NZ Government restrictions on re-entry to NZ have precluded the team from being able to travel to personally inspect venues, and also talk face to face with potential sponsors for the team.

While latest variant of COVID, Omicron did spike the progress that was being made in venue selection, it would seem that smoke is clearing on that front and that long-term many experts are now claiming that Omicron will be the final wave of the pandemic.

That scenario should lead to bolder moves by the Irish Government, and other venue backers, keen to use the America's Cup hosting to ignite their tourism industries following COVID inspired Lockdowns.

The Irish Examiner reports: "A technical team from the event's organising authority visited Cork city and harbour over the weekend for a range of technical briefings and site assessments, including an aerial assessment conducted during a flight over the harbour."

"The state, if it decides to proceed with the bid, will have to pay up to €55m (NZD$91.5million) for the right to host the event and on TV rights, but a cost-benefit analysis has shown that the event could be worth an estimated €500m to the economy," says the Irish Examiner.

Emirates Team NZ have been very open about their budget for the regatta which includes $120million for the team operation, of which ETNZ expects to be able to commercially fund $80million, with the venue covering the balance of the $200million total budget for the team and event.

After a mid-December Council meeting the Cork Live reported that "the Fianna Fáil councillor Gillian Coughlan, the mayor of Co Cork, said she had been skeptical of the venture to begin with, but after some research, was very much in favour of having the event held along the Cork coastline.

“There is an estimated 12-18 month economic boost — and it is not just for Cork, but for the wider Munster region,” she said.

"She also said the impetus to upgrade and repair infrastructure in advance of the event was an additional benefit."

"Councillors voiced their support for a motion put forward by the Cobh Municipal District (MD) that the council write to Ms Martin requesting that every effort be made to secure the America’s Cup for Cork Harbour in 2024."

"Speaking on the topic, Fine Gael councillor Anthony Barry said the benefits of hosting the America’s Cup, for Cork as well as the wider Munster area, would be huge.

"Supporting her party colleague, Fine Gael councillor Susan McCarthy said it was a “no-brainer” to host the event."

"Independent councillor Alan Coleman was also behind the efforts to garner support for the cause, saying it was an “incredibly important opportunity” which “could kickstart Cork’s return to tourism”.

There is a March 31, 2021 deadline in place for a venue announcement. So far three yacht clubs have confirmed they have lodged Challenges with the Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron, more are expected once the venue and approximate dates are confirmed.

New teams, those who did not compete in the 36th America's Cup, are permitted to start sailing three months later, in June 2022, in first generation AC75's they may have purchased. Existing AC36 teams cannot sail their second generation AC75's until September 2022.

Several America's Cup events will be sailed at the America's Cup venue, including the final preliminary event between the competing teams in AC40 (smaller, 40ft overall, four crew version of the AC75) along with the Youth America's Cup, the Womens America's Cup, the Challenger Selection Series, and the America's Cup Match itself.

Auckland is believed to be a very unlikely option for the Defence after talks broke up in mid-June 2021 between Emirates Team New Zealand, the NZ Govt and Auckland Council, with no agreement being reached. The visit by the Origin Sport review team, looking at Cork, took place just after the NZ Govt talks broke up.

Attempts at legal action in New Zealand to require the America's Cup to be defended in the home waters of the Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron are believed to be unlikely to succeed, given that there are few parallels with earlier successful legal actions against sports teams. Emirates Team New Zealand is a private team and not a NZ representative team in the way that the All Blacks were in 1985.

And in regard to issues relating to Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, New Zealand continues to trade with the Kingdom to the tune of around NZD$750million per year. The legal argument will have to centre around why sport should be treated differently from commerce.

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