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Potential loss of significant projects from baffling Youth America's Cup decision

by Alan Sefton 17 Sep 11:12 BST 17 September 2020
The Speaker of the NZ Parliament with the NZ Prime Minister at the launch of ETNZ's first AC75 © Richard Gladwell /

Leading sailing journalist, editor and winning America's Cup team manager, Alan Sefton comments on the recent rejection by the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment of the Youth America's Cup

The reasoning for the Ministry of Business, Innovation & Employment (MBIE)'s decision for pulling the rug out from under the Youth America's Cup is a ridiculous confusion and contradiction that makes the decision itself complete nonsense.

While there is still time, the Government needs to revisit that decision and get back on the rails an event that will generate substantial benefits - for NZ Inc. and for the country's struggling marine industry.

An integral part of the America's Cup summer of 2020/21, the event was scheduled to run across three weeks in early 2021, around the Prada Challenger Series and the 36th America's Cup Match.

With 19 confirmed entries, from 13 nations, it was projected to generate more than $NZ10 million into the New Zealand economy, creating jobs for New Zealanders and promoting New Zealand internationally.

One immediate benefit for the New Zealand marine industry was the creation for the event of a fleet of one-design foiling monohulls that would have kept fully employed the highly-skilled workforce of the country's one-remaining superyacht yard – Yachting Developments at Hobsonville – pending the confirmation of orders for two giant superyachts to be built in the New Year.

The ability of Yachting Developments to compete for those orders must now be in jeopardy.

And the outside world has not been slow to step in where New Zealand fears to tread.

Now, the Royal Hong Kong Yacht Club quickly proposed a Youth Foiling World Cup to be held 18 February-12 March 2021, for all the teams who had entered the Youth America's Cup 2021 – and anyone else too, interested in participating in a completely new replacement event.

Hard on the heels of the Government's rejection of the Youth America's Cup came an even higher profile and equally baffling example of bureaucratic bungling with New Zealand gifting to Australia the proposed four-nation Rugby championship involving Australia, Argentina and South Africa along with the All Blacks.

New Zealand's Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, tried to deflect any blame for New Zealand's hugely costly loss to the door of SANZAAR, the body which oversees Super Rugby and The Rugby Championship competitions involving South Africa, New Zealand, Australia and Argentina.

But those nations, including the All Blacks hierarchy, quickly denounced her claims of "SANZAAR politics", instead accusing the New Zealand Government of being intransigent when it came to finding viable solutions to vital border and COVID 19 considerations.

With Australia also threatening to forego the proposed two Bledisloe Cup tests against the All Blacks, because of the same New Zealand government intransigence, Prime Minister Arden finally realised that enough was enough and announced a softening of the New Zealand stance on quarantines. From the yachting perspective, however, there was no light at the end of its similar tunnel in terms of the Youth America's Cup., even though the reasons quoted for the Government's negative stance were inexplicable and didn't even involve the coronavirus or border quarantines.

According to the Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron's press release on the cancellation of the event: "The reasons we were given for not getting the immigration clearance required were that MBIE has not invested directly into this event and that New Zealanders could perform the sailing roles for the international teams. We are struggling to understand how that is possible as it is an international event and teams have to represent their country.

Furthermore, it came at no cost to the Government at a time where New Zealand needs this type of event and investment."

This would appear to exhibit a complete ignorance of what we are dealing with here:

The New Zealand government (ie taxpayer) is a major investor in AC 2021, to the tune of many tens of millions of dollars. The youth America's Cup has always been pitched as a key support event to the Cup match itself while also making a significant financial contribution to the overall regatta equation, creating serious employment opportunities and marine industry investment.

The proposed regatta is an international event that mirrors the America's Cup in that it caters for challenges from overseas yacht clubs.

And, as with the America's Cup itself, the eligibility constraints come with strict rules that limit the nationality of crew members to the country of challenge

Given that the Prime Minister has, albeit belatedly, shown a realisation that her Ministries and advisors are most definitely not infallible, should she not step in and demand the changes required to MBIE's twisted thinking that will enable the RNZYS et al to get on with staging an event that promises nothing but good for New Zealand and its economy?

Sail-World: The Auckland Boat Show was cancelled on Monday due to uncertainty as to Alert Levels that would apply at the time of the Show. The Auckland Boat Show is the principal marketing event for the Marine Industry. The inaugural Sydney Auckland Yacht Race was cancelled for similar reasons to the Youth America's Cup.

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