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Kiwi Govt links capsized SailGP event to lost America's Cup and hosting of other major events in NZ

by Richard Gladwell, Sail-World NZ 25 Mar 03:07 PDT
Germany SailGP Team during a practice session ahead of the ITM New Zealand Sail Grand Prix in Christchurch,. 21st March © Ricardo Pinto/SailGP

On morning TV, Prime Ministerial media conferences and by scathing media release, the leaders of three parties that make up the NZ Coalition Government have all backed SailGP, following the organisational debacle which resulted in the suspension of racing on Saturday, triggered by the appearance of a dolphin in the start area.

The New Zealand Prime Minister and the Deputy Prime Minister, along with the leader of the third party, ACT, who will mid-term become the Deputy Prime Minister all commented on the unfortunate SailGP situation in Christchurch, but were more focused on the issues raised by Sir Russell Coutts on Friday and Sunday over the regulation and approval labyrinth faced by event organisers and promoters.

ChristchurchNZ, the regional event attraction and event management body for the Christchurch region which includes Lyttelton Harbour, was in damage control on Monday, saying they already had an agreement with SailGP for Season 5. But in one media interview said they already had lawyers looking at the agreement.

ACT Party leader, David Seymour, who is also Minister for Regulation (charged with removing Red Tape) led the charge on morning breakfast television. Saying that the issue in Lyttelton was all about layers of bureaucracy and red tape, Seymour pointed out that the rules that were applied to SailGP were not imposed on any other user of the harbour. "In order to do something you have to work with people whose only power is to say "No" and go through a byzantine set of rules that don't make sense," Seymour said.

Midway through his regular Monday afternoon media conference, Prime Minister Chris Luxon, who seems to be dedicated to running the NZ Government along commercial lines, including imposition of quarterly KPIs, was asked a question as to "whether SailGP needed to have a good hard look at itself in the mirror as to why it would run a sailing competition in a known breeding location of an endangered dolphin?"

Luxon responded saying that "the balance has to be right. We have got a world class event (in SailGP), and we want to be able to attract world class events to New Zealand. It is important for our economy to be able to do so. We have got to find the balance between running world class events that have got TV viewership and lots of spectators involved, as well as obviously protecting our environment, and doing that sensitively."

"My personal view is that there is way too much red tape and obstruction on the economy. Everything is slowed up and as a result that doesn't make us a great place, if you want to run a global event. We have got more work to do to make sure that we don't put barriers and obstacles in the way of world class events."

"When you've got 50 million watching around the world on TV and 20,000 spectators at the event, being delayed a day, isn't a great thing," Luxon added.

"We have turned ourselves into a red tape and obstruction economy," Luxon repeated. "We want to build a strong pipeline of major events. That has huge advantages to us economically. It is fantastic when they happen socially across our communities. For that to happen you have to be sitting in the shoes of the people who are bringing those events to New Zealand. They can choose from 195 countries, who make it try and work for them and are very welcoming and are proactive about it, and I think we can do a better job of that," he said in conclusion.

After the conclusion of the Prime Minister's media conference, New Zealand First, led by Winston Peters who is also New Zealand's Foreign Minister issued a media release, which didn't pull any punches.

New Zealand has recently lost the hosting rights of some major international sporting events including the America’s Cup, the Rugby Championship, Netball World Cup, and the Wellington Sevens. We are now at a huge risk of losing SailGP as well. And it won’t stop there.

The recent issues with SailGP have spot-lighted the overly influential bureaucratic processes, power-drunk government departments, and some decision makers who clearly care more about their fiefdoms than our country’s economic development and international reputation.

These groups do nothing but stymie any sort of future prosperity for our country and ignorantly sabotage our economy and our future on the international stage.

SailGP in 2019 saw an average economic return at the hosting cities of $37 million. In Spain this year they set a record of over $90 million.

In this regard, over the past few years New Zealand has become so inward looking, and our vision clouded by nonsensical ‘moral and cultural roadblocks’, that we have allowed ourselves to travel down this spiraling path.

Our economy and our international reputation are suffering in the face of pearl-clutching extremists and their dizzying sense of self-worth.

New Zealand needs to get back to being a ‘can-do’ country that prioritises common sense and productivity.

Of course, there needs to be a ‘balance’ of all considerations including the economy, productivity, international viability, future tourism, environment, iwi and local governments – but ‘balance’ seems to have been thrown out the window.

When we get to a stage where common sense is ignored in favour of ‘opinions and a barrage of red-tape’, something needs to drastically change or New Zealand will simply be left behind.

For all its fine words, quite how the Coalition Government sets about melting bureaucratic icebergs will be interesting to see. The Governments own Events Management arm is contained within the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) - who were at loggerheads with Emirates Team New Zealand for the first three years of the 36th America's Cup cycle.

Under the Brave New World of the Coalition Government, which has only been in power since the end of November, 2023 - the first wave of layoffs of bureaucrats has started, with 300 due to go from MBIE. The resulting re-organisation is unlikely to accelerate progress on Major Event attraction and negotiation.

In 2021 MBIE Major Events announced a four year Hosting Rights agreement through to Season 6, for an investment by NZ Major Events of $5.1million, with a sub-agreement involving the event arms of the Auckland and Christchurch Councils.

It would seem that MBIE have been the loser in their arm-wrestle with Emirates Team New Zealand. At the upcoming America's Cup in Barcelona there will be no showcasing of New Zealand industry, and tourism.

There has not been any reaction so far, to the weekend's SailGP upset, from Auckland's Mayor, Wayne Brown, a long standing member of the Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron. Brown is also a keen sailor and current boat owner, who spoke in support of the attraction of major marine and other events in early November 2023.

Mayor Brown did speak at a media conference at RNZYS, where Auckland Unlimited - the Events arm of Auckland Council launched a month long "Moana Auckland" - a series of marine related events. Those included two boat shows, and was to have concluded with SailGP in Auckland.

In hindsight, those promoting that event knew the SailGP Auckland event was probably headed for the rocks, as the event was downplayed and a few days later SailGP pulled the pin ostensibly for over health and safety reasons relating to the state of the proposed spectator venue on Wynyard Point.

It was that breakdown in November 2023 which lead to the substitution of Lyttelton for late March 2024. Lyttelton was also venue for the 2023 SailGP event in NZ - which was judged to be highly successful.

Following the events of last weekend it would seem that the hasty venue negotiation was a shotgun marriage, that quickly fell apart.

New Zealand sailing appears to be the sport most affected by the bureaucratic complexities having lost the 2024 America's Cup, been by passed over by The Ocean Race and now with SailGP set to leave. Once again New Zealand appears to have played itself into its usual position of losing a major sporting event to Australia - and a second SailGP event in Melbourne, following SailGP Sydney would appear to be the most likely outcome.

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