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How can we respect deserters?

May 1, 2022

As a young man I served my country both abroad and at home (RNZN).

This was not unusual for many young men and women who followed, be it in the New Zealand Defence Forces or the many sporting codes who represented New Zealand on the international sporting arena we have become famous for.

Like then and now, Kiwis of all ages do it because of a sense of national pride, in being part of our heritage, you could say it’s part of our DNA. So, what has gone wrong? When money becomes the overall driver in any sporting pursuit, problems soon arise.

This has clearly happened with the current America’s Cup debacle. Have we as Kiwis become so focused on new technology and wing development to make boats fly that we have now outsmarted ourselves? Have we let our designers in pursuit of personal kudos design boats at the cutting edge of taking flight that are so expensive for most potential challenging syndicates that all they can do is reminisce on what a yacht race used to be?

In the past two decades we have seen the number of challengers diminish from a dozen or so to a struggling three, and I say struggling with respect. All three syndicates in the last America’s Cup challenge struggled with the new advances intechnology.

If we are to be truthful, even Emirates Team New Zealand only just managed to stay ahead in the fickle Waitemata conditions and there but for the grace of God, the final races could have gone either way.

After successfully defending the ACup36 in Auckland last year, Dalton and ETNZ rejected a further $99 million bid from the New Zealand Government and Auckland Council to host the next event at home. ETNZ had already accepted significant investment from the Government and Auckland Council ahead of the 2021 defence. But sadly, there appears to have been no payback clause in this financial support package.

In his decision to take the Cup to Barcelona, Dalton didn’t rule out returning for a home defence if ETNZ manage to win a third straight Cup – if the money’s right. Now what kind of a shit statement is this?

The Auld Mug is officially held by and is in the care of the Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron. But clearly Dalton is in control and is even dictating to the Squadron where the next defence will be. Somehow, I can sense the privileged old boys’ brigade have already packed their bags in anticipation of a posh jolly to Barcelona.

This is not a beat-up on ETNZ, nor is it a hate bash, as Dalton might claim.

I have been a proud supporter of Grant Dalton and our sailors both at home and on international waters. I well recall the duel between the late Sir Peter Blake and Grant Dalton when halfway through the Round the World Race they raced down the coast and into Auckland only minutes apart.

Yes, two maxi ketches, Steinlager 2 and Fisher & Paykel, produced a thrilling duel around the globe in the 1989-90version of the race, known then as the Whitbread, with their clash becoming a New Zealand sailing legend. It was the precursor to New Zealand’s America’s Cup interests, awakening many Kiwis not already bitten by the sailing bug to the drama that can be played out on the high seas.

I have participated in two Louis Vuitton Cup challenger series as a skipper of Mark Set Two and mid-course weather boats as a volunteer and was proud to do so as part of our support to defend the America’s Cup – New Zealand’s cup.

Now I feel a hollow emptiness while Grant and our sailors bask in the glory of riches at the expense of a nation which has supported the team through both success and losses when it was down. New Zealand deserves better of its sailing progeny.

Has the America’s Cup been turned into a reach for the riches at the expense of the Cup and all it stands for? Whatever happened to the principles of the original Deed of Gift, which clearly states that the Cup shall be defended in the holder’s homeland?

Nowhere does it suggest or even give tacit support to the notion that the defender can prostitute themselves for greater riches by selling the rights offshore.

This is tantamount to betrayal – an abandonment of the nation that has made you what you are today. Even Dirty Dennis would not sink this low. I can sense Sir Peter Blake turning in his grave. This is not a good look for New Zealand.

Then there is the impact of false promises to the marine industry that has supported the team through thick and thin. And don’t forget the huge inconvenience to the fishing and local charter boat fleet, and all the waterfront hospitality venues around the Viaduct Harbour. The impact was huge and full of broken promises.

I well recall the many promises offered in the Environment Court in the lead-up to get the consents for the massive changes to the waterfront, including promises to the wider maritime community such as boatbuilders and suppliers.

Grant, along with your defection goes the promised 120-plusvisiting superyachts and the prospect of major refits and repairs while they were in our waters. Sadly, the America’s Cup has now left many feeling hollow with broken promises.