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Why is the America’s Cup so Important?

A Point of View: Why is the America’s Cup so Important?

By David Miller

Having recently returned to New Zealand, I was dismayed to learn that the government has allocated 34 million dollars to support another bid for the America’s Cup. Their case is predicated upon the idea that this money is not only an investment in the syndicate but also this country’s image and future tourist market. The America’s Cup is an internationally recognised event with wide media coverage and having a New Zealand challenge at the next regatta will go a long way to building this country’s profile. Hence the government’s argument is not a bad one but in light of the looming energy crisis, the failing health system and overburdened education sector, could this money not have been better spent?

There are people in this country who have never come to terms with the fact that we lost the America’s Cup, let alone trashed five-nil. I recall with horror one idiot who when interviewed on television the day the mast snapped compared the experience to September 11. Then there was the Blackheart campaign and threats against members of Alinghi that only succeeded in painting New Zealanders in the worst possible light. This inability to accept the loss of the Cup is continuing long after the defeat. The America’s Cup is still discussed at great length in the media and the government, anxious to maintain as much public goodwill as it can, is eager to show that it has not given up on the cause.

This column is not knocking the idea that Team New Zealand challenge for the America’s Cup in 2007 or disputing the fact that having the Cup here is great for the economy and the country’s profile. I am questioning the government’s handout of such a large amount of money at a time of economic slowdown, a possible power shortage and when other sectors are in need of funding. My question is why is the America’s Cup so important to New Zealand and does it deserve this money above all the other sports at which New Zealanders compete on the world stage and so many other aspects of this country’s economic and social fabric?

The cost of staging a new challenge now the Cup is in Europe means that the government is merely financing a feasibility study as to whether Team New Zealand will make it to the start line in 2007. Thirty four million is a mere drop in the bucket when it comes to yacht racing at this level and without the backing of a billionaire such as Larry Ellison or Enersto Bertorelli then there is little chance of it happening. Team New Zealand needs to find an international sponsor with massive financial resources and I hope that Grant Dalton and company can find one.

Yachting and the America’s Cup is a sport that is played by the rich. The term ‘millionaires racing for billionaires’ is an apt one and the sport at that level is elitist. Team New Zealand’s great skill while under Peter Blake and Russell Coutts was moving the perception of the event away from this and towards the idea that it was something for all New Zealanders, a kind of ‘us versus them’, and the red socks and loyal campaigns helped reinforce this idea. The problem for many New Zealanders was that this cosy image was shattered when Coutts and some fellow countrymen got a better offer in Switzerland and left to race for the opposition.

My hope is that Team New Zealand will make it to the 2007 regatta and they can bring the Cup back with them but I do not believe tax payers money should be spent on doing it. There are more important issues and sectors in need of government funding and who will never receive it so easily. This is a shame and I do hope that the government stops trying to impress the electorate with spin and focus their energies on solving some of our serious problems.

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