Yachting: Future regattas off the EU radar

By Paul Lewis

Whoever wins the 34th America's Cup will have to grapple with a familiar problem in holding the 35th version - where challengers will find the money - after an ominous reference from government funders in the key market of Europe.

It means billionaires funding challenges for the Cup could remain the pre-eminent method of bankrolling.

In San Francisco, Team New Zealand is the only syndicate among the three challengers not to rely solely on a billionaire's chequebook, though they too have had some help from Swiss-Italian multi-millionaire Matteo de Nora. Emirates Team NZ also received $36 million in funding from the government.

The cost of mounting a campaign - over US$100 million ($125 million) for this regatta in San Francisco - has been blamed for a paucity of challengers this time. Up to 15 were predicted; they finished up with three. In Valencia 2007, at the last America's Cup to have a healthy turnout of challengers, seven of the 11 syndicates hailed from Europe.

Even with cost-cutting measures for the next Cup, more than benevolent billionaires will be needed if the Cup is to once again attract the number of challengers so starkly missing in San Francisco. Government funding of some description may be essential, especially with sponsorship dollars still so tough to extract.

However, there was a disheartening reference to the America's Cup from the key market of Europe late last month, mentioning the Cup specifically as the sort of event to which EU funds may not be diverted.

It came from the European Commissioner for Regional Policy, Johannes Hahn from Austria, who said in a recent interview: "European funds can no longer be spent on events such as the Elton John concert or the America's Cup in Naples or construction of works such as the Salerno-Reggio Calabria."

Hahn, whose job it is to oversee the spending of EU funds to realise the EU's 2020 strategy, said the financing of "so-called major events", could not be determined in isolation by member states and had to fit the EU's strategy.

"Specific projects, including those aimed at promoting the attractiveness of a given territory, must be evaluated on the basis of their contribution to the overall strategy and objectives," he said.

That strategy is aimed at creating jobs and reducing poverty by investing in energy efficiency, research and innovation and modern and sustainable production methods. EU spending during 2014-20 will be controlled along those lines.

It's also clear that corruption involving EU funding is being clamped down on. Next month, new EU Commission laws pass into effect, giving the commission the ability to police more effectively where and how funds are sent and spent.

The recent America's Cup World Series in Naples and money for the restoration of the nearby ancient city of Pompeii have both been subject to suspicion that money was diverted to unexpected pockets.

In Naples, prosecutors are investigating possible irregularities in bid rigging, abuse of office and fraud involving money from the EU to help stage the event - a highly successful regatta in the America's Cup World Series, won by the Italian AC45 yacht and which saw Neapolitans turn out in force to celebrate.

Asked about the America's Cup, Hahn said: "The Commission is aware of the fact that Naples magistrates have opened an investigation into the alleged mismanagement of public funds for the America's Cup in Naples. If there is clear evidence of a misuse of funds, we will take the necessary steps to protect the financial interest of the EU."

In Pompeii, €105 million ($173 million) of EU money to restore the city buried after the eruption of Vesuvius in 79AD has also been the subject of EU attention, with efforts being made to ensure the money is applied properly.

One contractor is being probed after one €500,000 bill ($820,000) grew into €5 million and there are fears other funds are being siphoned off by the mafia, whose national headquarters are in nearby Naples.

- Herald on Sunday

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