America's Cup not worth big investment

MARTIN VAN BEYNEN
Last updated 07:51 28/09/2013
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MARTIN VAN BEYNEN: Let's leave the America's Cup to the obsessive billionaires.

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Martin van Beynen

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OPINION: I've just watched the last and final race of the America's Cup and am as disappointed as anyone.

If Team New Zealand had won I probably wouldn't be writing this sort of column but the bitterness of defeat should prompt some searching questions about whether we should be investing in the contest with either heart or money.

The excruciating awards ceremony on the San Francisco docks after the final race should in itself make us all wonder if we want to be in any way connected with the circus.

Any belief that the cup is some noble sort of sporting competition between nations should have been well and truly dispelled in the last few months.

Team New Zealand's effort was sponsored by a Japanese car company and an airline operating from Dubai. The boat was part funded by an Italian multi-millionaire.

Oracle's crew contained one American, was skippered by an Australian and had a British yachtsman calling the shots. Two Kiwis were on the crew.

Essentially the teams are well paid hired guns and we shouldn't blame them for that, but neither should we dignify the contest by pretending national honour is at stake. The cup is an exclusive contest for obsessive billionaires like Larry Ellison, who funded Oracle's campaign. We should recognise it as such and leave it to them.

It was interesting to listen to the patchy TVNZ commentators Martin Tasker and Peter Lester on this subject. Earlier in the week, the contest was all about the starts because "there's nothing wrong with the Kiwi boat". Then when Aotearoa won the start but still lost, it was tactics or crew work.

Suddenly, in the final race, they began talking about Oracle being a different class of boat because of the might of Ellison's wealth. We began hearing about stabilising and trimming technology on Oracle which was too expensive for Team New Zealand.

Perhaps they could have mentioned that both boats were made in New Zealand and with 110 professionals in the Aotearoa camp it wasn't exactly a shoestring outfit.

If, to be competitive in the America's Cup, a team needs a camp billionaire, then Team New Zealand needs to get one. We have a couple of American and Russian billionaires now living in New Zealand who might fit the bill.

But if that is what it takes, let's be honest and call the race what it is. A billionaire's hobby or folly.

A connected issue is whether we can still call this a sailing race. It's connected to the billionaire argument because the more hi-tech the cup becomes, the more limited its field of possible contestants.

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It was never a cheap business but, in the past, competitors built a yacht and put some sails on it. Now teams need experts in a whole range of disciplines not previously required.

To see the boats racing in a decent breeze is to witness a marvellous and exciting spectacle and the America's Cup has always been about improved sailing technology. But these boats take it beyond a sailing race.

The focus will, after a few weeks of grieving, turn to whether Team NZ should be kept together and should start to plan another challenge.

The Government might be asked to make another contribution on the basis that the effort has promoted the New Zealand brand by connecting it with great sportsmen and leading-edge technology on a world stage.

Well, that stage looked pretty small yesterday as the lamentable ceremony unfolded. As sports columnist Phil Hamilton pointed out earlier this week in The Press, Americans regard the America's Cup on a par with the sport of polo. It is not as though New Zealand has the limelight all to itself. Emirates and Toyota and Camper are also getting their money's worth and a cynic might wonder that if New Zealand is so hot then why can't it produce some local sponsors? What is sometimes forgotten with sponsoring sport is that as a marketing spend it's risky.

New Zealand is now forever connected to one of the great snatches of defeat from the jaws of victory in sporting history. Forgive the cliche. Will anyone forget the mast breaking on the New Zealand boat in the cup defence of 2003?

The arguments for disassociating New Zealand from the America's Cup are pretty overwhelming. At the very least it would stop all this heartbreak and we may never have to hear another cliche from Martin Tasker and Peter Lester again.

Don't invest anymore heartache in this.

- The Press

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