The fight for America’s Cup tradition

Published on November 23rd, 2021

After losing the America’s Cup in 1983, skipper Dennis Conner shifted gears. Now a challenger for San Diego Yacht Club, he mounted a multi-boat campaign, trialed the boats in the strong winds of Hawaii, and beat the Australian defender to become the first person both to lose the America’s Cup and then to win it back.

The 1987 America’s Cup was also a triumph for the event. After 25 editions in mostly mild New England weather, the 12 Meters came alive in the boisterous winds off Fremantle, Western Australia. The ESPN television coverage is often cited as a landmark turning point in company history. Unlike ever before, people watched the racing.

But with Conner’s victory, the Cup would next be held in the notoriously light winds of San Diego. Or would it? Conner admits there was brief consideration to hold the races in Hawaii, to emulate the excitement of Fremantle, but the leadership of the club would have no part in such abandonment. Defenses are held in the home waters of the winning club. End of debate.

That tradition continued but with two exceptions. When Alinghi won in 2003, their home lake in Switzerland was not sufficient, which then prompted in 2007 what many consider the high water mark of the event with 11 challengers in Valencia, Spain. The other occasion was in 2017 when the pursuit of commercialism took the event to Bermuda.

There was relief when the 2021 America’s Cup would be held in New Zealand. Memories of raucous crowds in Auckland for the 2000 and 2003 editions remained fresh. The Kiwi public were sailing fans, and despite the hurdles of the coronavirus pandemic, their support was unmatched. Plus, with their victory, the city had a well-earned do-over without health restrictions.

However, what was not foreseen was how the defender created an event they could no longer afford. Their interest to evolve the boats took them down the dark alley of progress which raised the costs beyond their achievable budget. Hoping that government would cover the shortfall, politicians chose pragmatism over enthusiasm.

So the Kiwi team, abandoning tradition, is now shopping the greatest asset they have – the venue. This has their rabid fans left at the altar, an abandoned bride wondering where the love went. The sex had been good, the romance real, but the team’s heart belonged to an ornate sterling silver bottomless ewer.

Perhaps Team New Zealand felt a bit like that bride after the government’s offer, and now pride has them playing the field. They have swayed their club’s leadership of this need, but not everyone else.

The team at Kiwi Home Defence, a newly formed entity committed to keeping AC37 on home waters, contends the portrayal presented by the New Zealand defender is not factual, and offered their position in a statement issued on November 23, 2021:

The leadership of the Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron needs to engage positively on the Auckland America’s Cup Defence and stop parroting that they “do not have a viable New Zealand venue proposition”, says Mark Dunphy of Kiwi Home Defence.

Mr Dunphy is referring to the Squadron Commodore’s comments in response to members’ requests for a Special General Meeting to require that the America’s Cup be defended in the waters adjacent to the city of Auckland.

“The simple fact is that there is a viable funded option to hold the America’s Cup defence in Auckland, but the Squadron’s agent, Team New Zealand, point blank refuses to consider taking up that option and holding the Cup defence here. Team New Zealand has refused all attempts by Kiwi Home Defence to engage since our first funding proposal was sent to the team and the Squadron well over two months ago.”

“We believe they haven’t had any discussions with Auckland Council, the New Zealand Government, or other New Zealand funders since missing their first venue announcement date on 17 September, or since missing their second venue announcement on 17 November.”

“The only apparent venue activity is the team shopping ‘around the clock’ for international locations. It is clear from the team’s own actions and omissions that it is not having any of these discussions in New Zealand and that it currently has no intention to defend the Cup in New Zealand.”

“The Commodore says there is no viable New Zealand defence proposition. With the greatest of respect, given his agent’s refusal to engage with New Zealanders, how would he know?”

“Our research tells us that the firm funding of $40 million Kiwi Home Defence has offered along with the $99 million offered by the Auckland Council and the Government and the team’s own projected funding of around $80 million plus the significant Prada (or other) events’ sponsorship (estimated at $37 million) will be more than sufficient to hold a successful defence here.”

“If Team New Zealand will not do so, the Commodore and Squadron must step in and positively engage with all funders and supporters and confirm the viability of hosting and successfully defending the 37th America’s Cup in New Zealand. We will write to the Squadron again offering those discussions. The Commodore must explain why the Team is around the clock offshore at the cost of Squadron members and all New Zealanders missing out.”

“Failing a genuine attempt to hold the Cup Defence here, the discontent of Squadron members, yachting enthusiasts, and Team New Zealand supporters, will only grow.”

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