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Sail-World NZ - May 30: Immigration shenanigans...Defiant checks in..Te Aihe's return

by Richard Gladwell, Sail-World.com/nz 30 May 03:06 BST 30 May 2020
Te Aihe arrives back at the Emirates Team New Zealand base - May 26, 2020 © Richard Gladwell, Sail-World.com / nz

Welcome to Sail-World.com's New Zealand e-magazine for May 28, 2020

The America's Cup was in the news for much of the past week for all the wrong reasons.

Two challenger teams are demanding action on their entry visa applications into New Zealand, saying they have been lodged for some time.

When questioned as to their progress, Minister of Business, Innovation and Employment, Phil Twyford said he had not seen any applications.

Both statements are probably correct given that apparently the systems at NZ Immigration are still largely paper-based, running on a process akin to an airport baggage carousel. Quite when the answers will be forthcoming is hard to tell - without an understanding of the process that the teams have followed.

Making the situation even more difficult for the teams involved is the information that several exemptions to New Zealand's close border regulations have been signed by Minister Twyford. Many were applications from those working on the latest Avatar movie, which was in production when the New Zealand borders were closed to try and contain the spread of the devastating coronavirus. Others were technicians from Germany to repair a leaking sewer.

To add to what is normally a far from straightforward process, is the split appearing in the Coalition Government ranks - with the Prime Minister wanting to remain at Alert Level 2 for four weeks, and the Deputy Prime Minister saying that the lockdown should have ended already and the country should move to the lowest level of Alert immediately.

With a General Election looming in mid-September there is clearly political positioning underway, and the America's Cup Challengers have got caught in this crossfire.

The Challengers haven't helped their cause too much by going public, other than drawing attention to their plight.

Fast rewind back to 2014 and the infamous "Black Friday" media conference called by Emirates Team New Zealand on Friday May 13, 2014. There in the old Alinghi base, Grant Dalton sought to explain they were in a financial tightspot, and looked to the Government to get "vital" funding over and above the initial $5million kicked in by the then National Government, which came immediately after the unsuccessful San Francisco campaign, to keep the team alive.

Grant Dalton's comments got turned around by some of the media present to claim Dalton had given the Government an ultimatum, which went down like a cup of the cold proverbial with then MBIE Minister Stephen Joyce, 15 minutes later in Wellington, although he was smart enough to draw a deep breath before speaking to what was a media set-up job.

Even so, Emirates Team New Zealand came close to exiting the Cup amidst a cacophony of barracking from the America's Cup defenders, Oracle Team USA and others.

In New Zealand, airing one's America's Cup political washing in public, is never a good idea. And rather than react, the government of the day's reaction is usually to dig in and take the always politically popular stance of standing up to America's Cup teams of whatever hue.

We've all seen this story played out before - and the outcome is predictable - the teams will get their passes, but when is quite another matter.

Maybe the first to arrive, American Magic, would be best advised to take a leaf from Luna Rossa's playbook and fit their AC75 with electric engines to replace six grinders and then start training in on the Waitemata NZ with Dean Barker and a Kiwi resident crew of five.

Sailing away

Emirates Team New Zealand are sailing on a different tack to the Challengers, and with the earlier than expected arrival of their first AC75, Te Aihe are now back in control of their assets and timetable, looking ahead to sailing fast on smoother waters all the way to the America's Cup.

That is the situation this week - but nothing ever remains the same in the America's Cup.

Of course, the downside to the immigration woes of the challengers, is that many of the multi million economic benefits of the America's Cup in New Zealand may not be realised.

If the participants in the America's Cup are getting the run around on visas - what hope is there for mere mortals like superyacht owners, media, and America's Cup fans who need to gain entry into New Zealand?

Normally in a hosting agreement for an America's Cup there is a clause allowing for Cup personnel being given a waiver on immigration and other areas where an exception to legislation may be required including payment of income tax.

At the time NZ won the Cup such a clause probably wasn't necessary, but the advent of COVID19 changed all that and now the Challengers from themselves stuck up Immigration Creek without an exemption.

For events like the Olympics, visas are not usually a problem and are near automatic once you are approved for accreditation. America's Cups are different, but still relatively straightforward, given that a legislative exemption is usually in place and the welcome mat is always at the airport door.

There was an exception at the last America's Cup, in Bermuda, where before traveling, the media were asked to add a line with their details into a supplied spreadsheet.

The idea was that all the lines could be compressed into a single document - so Immigration at Bermuda International Airport had a list of who was coming in that day, on what flight etc, and that they were there for the upcoming America's Cup. And the media gained the impression that no entry visas were required

It was a great idea, except someone neglected to tell the Immigration officials. Around midnight, a couple of days before the start of the Louis Vuitton Trophy, several planes arrived from USA and other parts, and disgorged their passengers.

Regular tourists and residents got through their processing with just a long wait, a look at their credentials and visas, and then got waved through.

A growing gaggle of media turned up, without any visas and just their passports and name on a spreadsheet.

Then started the interrogation process in one of the side offices, by a senior immigration officer. He took about 40 minutes for the first, 30 minutes for the second and becoming ever shorter as more media sat in the hot-seat in an office, each reciting the same story. Outside more and more media joined the waiting-room queue, in a airport which architecturally looked to have changed little since the 1950's. It was a quaint but not uncomfortable experience.

After promising we would leave Bermuda after 40 days and we wouldn't sell our camera kit, we all got the vital stamp and were allowed to go out into the night.

Sadly for the America's Cup challengers group, it is unlikely that the same ruse will work for teams arriving in Auckland, over the next few months.

For all the latest news from NZ and around the world see the Top 50 stories below.

Between newsletters, you can follow all the racing and developments in major and local events on www.sail-world.com/nz or by scrolling to the top of the site, select New Zealand, and get all the latest news and updates from the sailing world.

Good sailing!

Richard Gladwell
NZ Editor

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