It ain't over 'til it's over

All three cities hoping to host the 37th America's Cup have been frontrunners in recent weeks. But with hours to go to the deadline does Emirates Team New Zealand have a viable bid on the table?

It’s the nature of yacht racing that nothing is ever certain. Victory is never assured. No matter how big your lead around the last windward mark, the race is not won until you make it down the final run and across the finish line ahead of the fleet.

The three shortlisted venue bid teams for the 37th America’s Cup know must surely know what I’m talking about. Ireland, Saudi Arabia, and Spain have all at some point led the race to host the next edition of yachting’s premiere event, expected to take place in 2024.

But on the eve of the announcement deadline set by the Defender Emirates team New Zealand none of the three have yet managed to poke their bow across the finish line.

Spain’s Valencia-based bid looked strong for a good while.

The Mediterranean city successfully hosted the 32nd and 33rd America’s Cups and seemed to tick the boxes on TV-friendly time zones and the potential for huge spectator numbers. But in the end they just couldn’t get access to the government money, and that forced a reluctant and disappointing retiral from the race late last week.

All was not lost for Spain, however. It turned out that, unbeknown to everyone outside of the bid process, the Spanish had a second boat in the race the whole time.

When the ‘All of Spain’ bid came out of stealth mode it was reportedly with high level government support and access to the funds required to bring the America’s Cup to Barcelona.

That was a good enough proposition to put them at the front of the fleet with just a week to go to decision time – if they could actually get the necessary government signatures. They say they can, but those in the know when it comes to dealing with Spanish politicians tell me that nothing is going to happen quick enough for a decision before tomorrow’s deadline.

As fanciful as the America’s Cup coming to Cork, Ireland might once have seemed a few weeks ago, the Irish bid team did a stellar job of presenting the case for the Emerald Isle – more than good enough to make them a major contender.

Ireland’s rumoured to be 200 million Euro bid also depends on government funding. But according to the bid team, up to 150 million Euros of that total figure was money already earmarked for a future regeneration project around Cork Harbour. Aside from bringing forward those projects, a further 50 million Euros was, they say, the true cost of hosting the event.

So when a leaked independent assessment report commissioned by the government hinted at a return of as much as 500 million Euros to Ireland’s economy the Irish declared themselves comfortable frontrunners.

“It’s ours to lose,” was the bold statement frequently quoted in the Irish media in recent days.

But this euphoria soon evaporated this week when it emerged that the Irish government was unwilling to sign off on the necessary funds to bring the America’s Cup to Ireland before this Friday’s deadline.

As disappointing as this must be for Irish sailing fans, the insistence of their government officials to be given the time to do the necessary due diligence on such a high-profile investment should not have come as a surprise.

News that the government review is slated to take as long as six months does, however, put the viability of Ireland’s America’s Cup bid in serious doubt.

So, what of the third boat in the race – supposedly a Jeddah-based bid from Saudi government? Many people reasonably believed the oil rich nation would be able to outbid their rivals and add the America’s Cup to Formula 1 and the other mainstream sports they have tempted to the country.

But, if the rumours are true, then the Saudi offer came in much lower than those manging the bid process expected. This – and the cultural challenges of hosting the America’s Cup in Saudi Arabia, as well as the resistance from the American team(s) over the Cup being held there – knocks the Jeddah bid to the back of the pack.

Meanwhile, back in New Zealand there are further attempts from an unspecified group of financiers, led by Kiwi businessman Mark Dunphy, to force Emirates Team New Zealand to commit to staging the 37th America’s Cup in Auckland.

As well as reportedly submitting last minute details of the proposed funding package to the Defender, the group yesterday launched an online campaign using the title Kiwi Home Defence aimed at rallying public support for the Cup to remain in New Zealand.

The campaign includes a website as well as Facebook and Instagram pages.

Whether the KHD bid is financially viable remains to be seen. What is clear, however, is just how untenable the working relationship between Emirates Team New Zealand CEO Grant Dalton and Mark Dunphy is likely to be.

There cannot be much love lost between the two. Dunphy’s original proposal was based on Dalton stepping away from the campaign – which he of course refused to do. More recent proposals are understood to require Dalton to give up any budgetary control for the campaign – undoubtedly another certain deal breaker.

Unfortunately, in the absence of a firm venue bid, and with just hours to go to the deadline, it seems inevitable that the most likely announcement we will hear from Auckland tomorrow is that the team need more time to make their decision.

That extra time could give the three northern hemisphere venues more time to beef up their existing proposals – or perhaps even allow Emirates Team New Zealand to lower their expectations on the funding they require to host and defend the America’s Cup.

Either way – fingers crossed for a not too protracted resolution.