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America's Cup: Irish save political face with Cork's early exit

by Richard Gladwell/ 28 Mar 2022 21:26 PDT 29 March 2022
Volvo Cork Week © David Brannigan

Irish media are reporting that the Department of Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media has made an 11th-hour withdrawal as a venue for the 37th America's Cup.

"While Cork harbour would be a "great venue" for the event, an assessment found that the necessary infrastructural and planning arrangements would not be in place in time.

"Ministers Catherine Martin and Jack Chambers said that after consultation with party leaders and relevant cabinet colleagues, they have today decided "not to proceed further in the bidding process" to host the race," the Examiner reports.

This is the second time that Ireland has pulled back from hosting the event.

Two days before the original venue announcement date, on September 17, 2021, the word went out from Emirates Team New Zealand that Ireland and Cork were about to be named as the venue.

The bid had been backed by Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney, a keen yachtsman, with a sound understanding of the America's Cup. The Cup hosting sat comfortably with Coveney's previous launched Global Ireland 2025 project. That endeavour called for several initiatives designed to reconnect Ireland with the diaspora of 70million people worldwide who claim Irish heritage; Ireland's embassies around the world would be doubled from 45 to 90; along with obvious tourism and industrial benefits.

However the bid was pulled back a day later, by the Ministry of Sport, on the basis that it needed six months further consideration. The proposed venue was shifted from the Doyle Shipyard, close to the racing venue to one in the Centre of Cork, which would have required substantial redevelopment, and left a legacy venue from the staging of the America's Cup.

It would seem that today's withdrawal announcement by the Irish Government Ministers, and its timing, is more a move to save political face, rather than not being named as the venue after the formal announcement in a couple of days time.

On the face of it, the announced short list has shrunk from four venues to three - Jeddah in Saudi Arabia; Barcelona and Malaga in Spain.

Jeddah would seem to be a long shot, given recent events. Ben Ainslie CEO of Challenger of Record, INEOS Britannia was reported last week to be against Jeddah as a venue, while accepting that the final decision was that of Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron and its team Emirates Team NZ. Previously US Challenger American Magic had indicated their disquiet with Jeddah on security grounds.

The Spanish media are running hot with speculation and leaks from Government officials that one of the two Mediterranean venues will be anointed as venue on Thursday (NZT).

Similar leaks were made by Government officials on social media ahead of previous decisions - some of which have proven to be accurate, others just create embarrassment.

Much has been made of the financial package said to have been offered by the three venues. It is worth noting that of the 15 criteria listed in the Venue Selection Process Hosting Guide sent out in November 2020, on ETNZ's behalf, only three of the assessment points are financially related.

They are: the Rights Fee; Payment of Operating Costs (for the event); and Underwriting of Additional Costs.

The other 12 criteria relate to issues inherent in the staging and running of the event to ensure it is a success; whether it is a good venue for television and media coverage; the certainty of being able to conduct racing on time; and generally how the venue works for the event organisers and teams.

As usual with such exercises the criteria are measured using a scoring system. A third of the factors are scored out of 5pt;, the next group out 4pts; and the others on a three point scale. The total perfect score, according to the hosting document, totals 58pts.

Visits to the venues have been made by Emirates Team New Zealand's advisers, UK based Origin Sports, and followed in the last few weeks by Emirates Team New Zealand's CEO Grant Dalton. At each venue, Daltons' presence has been tipped by local media as an indication that the venue has the inside running.

Barcelona would look to have the inside running against those criteria as it would seem to be the only venue of the four European venues, and excluding Auckland, with near ready made facilities.

Of the last five America's Cups, only two have been hosted in the sailing waters of the Defending team/club.

Emirates Team New Zealand team has a precedent for being unorthodox in its involvement with the hosting of America's Cup events.

In 2015 the team negotiated a deal with America's Cup Events Authority for the Qualifiers to be sailed in Auckland after ACEA had announced Bermuda as the venue for the 2017 America's Cup. That was the first time in Cup history that the Qualifiers had been scheduled to be sailed geographically separate from the America's Cup venue. An analysis of the Qualifiers hosting soon showed that the teams would probably spend more time in Auckland than Bermuda.

The move expanded the duration and options for the event, including for sponsors who had no interest in Bermuda, but would go to Auckland - and vice versa.

ACEA's General Harvey Schiller overturned that deal after ETNZ had the audacity to support then allies Luna Rossa, with a Tweet message, for railing against ACEA for changing the America's Cup class from the AC62 to the smaller AC50. That change came nine months after the AC62 had been announced as the America's Cup Class for 2017, and Luna Rossa was then well advanced with design work for its Challenger.

Team New Zealand was exonerated by an Arbitration Panel decision with a confidential financial payment being made. The then Bermuda-based teams voluntarily agreed to a non-sail period of several weeks while ETNZ transited from Auckland to Bermuda.

Auckland's chances of hosting the 2024 America's Cup look to be a long shot, given the NZ Government and Auckland Council's record has generally been antagonistic towards the team.

That includes going back to the decision on the Auckland infrastructure, where the alternate 2021 Cup venue was close to being triggered when after several months of public bickering over the options, the parties were at a stalemate.

That bitter relationship continued again for several weeks in 2020, with Cup hosting financial information being leaked to the media and used to paint the team in a very unfavourable light - with obvious implications for the professional reputations of the ETNZ board and management. The media tirade stopped after ETNZ obtained a High Court injunction against the publication of secretly recorded Board and management discussions. A subsequent Government enquiry exonerated the team of the media claims.

After the successful Defence in March 2021, the NZ Government announced an offer of $5million interim funding for the team, tagged with the 2024 hosting being held in Auckland. Their offer was rejected two days later by ETNZ, who then entered a three-month exclusive negotiation period with the NZ Government and Auckland Council. An agreement was not reached with the NZ Government offering a Hosting Fee of just NZD31million. Consistent with the practice of the preceding four years, the failure of the 2024 Venue negotiations was again leaked to the media - ahead of the conclusion of the exclusive negotiation period.

The failure of those discussions hardly came as a surprise, given the publication of a Government report after the 2021 America's Cup, which claimed that for every $1 invested, New Zealand only showed a $0.58c return.

The crux of the Government and Councils' issues with the team seems to be that, unlike other major sporting events, the America's Cup is not controlled by a world body but by the current holder/Defender of the most prestigious trophy in sailing.

It would seem that the only way for the Cup to be hosted in New Zealand would be for the ETNZ to stage the Cup using its own funding sources, without Government assistance, as was done in the 2000 and 2003 America's Cups. However, that would likely require a "User Pays" approach, as occurred with the 2017 America's Cup in Bermuda.

A decision on the 2024 America's Cup venue will be made on, or before, Thursday, March 31, 2022 (NZT).

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