America's Cup: Team NZ's mystery man

By Paul Lewis

Matteo de Nora.
Matteo de Nora.

It is good news and bad news, Swiss-Italian billionaire and Emirates Team NZ benefactor Matteo de Nora told an Italian journalist wanting to know about his Italian heritage.

"The bad news is that I am not an Italian. My father was. But the good news is that, depending on the sport, I am for Italy or for New Zealand. So whenever you play soccer, you can come to me."

Cue appreciative laughter and applause from an Italian press corps here who have had little to laugh about recently. The Italian syndicate Luna Rossa lost the Louis Vuitton Cup in the eighth race on Monday with a lacklustre display - and body language that suggested they knew what was befalling them. All changed in the celebrations that followed the end of the Louis Vuitton Cup.

As the champagne sprayed, the handshakes clasped and the backs were slapped, the full extent of the warm, symbiotic relationship between the Italians and the New Zealanders emerged.

But de Nora puzzled the Italian media. Like most Kiwis, they have seen little of the reclusive billionaire - and know even less about him. He copped a question asking him to explain the fact that he was not a Kiwi and here he was with his hand partially on the tiller of a Kiwi victory.

"If you were here, in front of the Cup and you had won it," he said, "it would not need explaining.

"I like the culture of the team. You don't need to be Kiwi to be with a Kiwi team. It's a lot to do [with] being down-to-earth and knowing what sport represents. I once said that it would be better to be third with the Kiwi team than first with ... no, I better not say."

The billionaire was probably talking about Alinghi, the Swiss holders of 2007 who got offside with just about everyone and were ambushed by Oracle (the other possible recipient of the de Nora wit) in court to set up the 2010 deed of gift match and Oracle's tenure of the Cup.

So who is Matteo de Nora, the benefactor who doesn't like the limelight?

He has a house in Monte Carlo (and one in Northland) and is a member of the de Nora family, which owns a business empire that spans the globe; it deals principally in sophisticated fuel cells and turns over about US$600 million ($769 million) a year.

This is the man who Grant Dalton often says saved Team NZ; they were unable to pay the bills until de Nora stepped in back in 2003.

Even though the Government funded $34 million of Team NZ's 2007 campaign against Alinghi, that campaign would not have happened without de Nora persuading the members of the financing syndicate to pitch in, as he had.

He doesn't like to talk about the money but, in 2003, he stumped up with "$400,000 or $500,000" to pay the bills. He has only said, in one reluctant interview in 2007, that he has given Team NZ "millions" but said it was nothing like the $20 million that had been reported at that time.

Whatever the figure is, it will be a lot more now. This campaign, in Dalton's words, has cost "somewhere north of US$100 million".

But de Nora is sincere in his support. He is one of those visitors who genuinely likes the Kiwi way and culture. In 2007 he was one of the guests of honour on board a taua waka which escorted NZL92, the yacht for the 32nd America's Cup, out for the first day of racing. Interviewed afterwards, he was full of emotion about the experience, the hongi, the exchange of breath and the chants.

When the talk ended, de Nora scuttled out a back entrance, leaving behind those of us wanting to know more about this Kiwi mystery.

- NZ Herald

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