Peter Montgomery's famous declaration, 'The America's Cup is now New Zealand's Cup!' might still be true, but it seems unlikely that it will ever again be contested in the Hauraki Gulf. The Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron is officially the holder of international sport's oldest trophy, but Emirates Team NZ is calling the shots, and seems set on staging the next defence anywhere but in Auckland.
That, according to TNZ chief executive Grant Dalton, is a simple, unavoidable (if unpalatable) financial imperative. Perhaps so, but it will be a great shame nevertheless.
Dalton clearly accepts that Team NZ really does represent New Zealand, as opposed to a handful of wealthy individuals, as seems to be the case with other contenders from around the world. Hence the rules now require those who actually sail to have citizenship in the countries they compete for. That rule might simply be designed to prevent other syndicates from poaching New Zealanders, but it also recognises that here at least there is a strong emotional investment, not to mention financial investment, in a competition where this country will forever be David, pitting itself against a never-ending series of Goliaths.
'Our' investment in the Cup was never better expressed than in the 1995 campaign, led by Peter (later Sir) Blake, whose Black Magic beat Dennis Conner 5-0, and forever cemented the the place of red socks in the public imagination as a powerful good luck charm. Hundreds of thousands of us bought the socks, and wore them, as our financial and emotional contribution to Blake's successful 2000 defence.
There is absolutely no doubt that New Zealanders who wouldn't know the difference between a bowsprit and a bowline have taken take great pride in 'our' Cup challenges and defences, starting in Fremantle in 1987, according to the theory that if Australia could win the thing so could we. That challenge didn't come off, but New Zealand subsequently became the second country, after Australia, to win the Cup other than America, and in 2000 became the first outside America to successfully defend it.
And it's still 'ours,' even if we can apparently no longer afford to defend it here (on a body of water that has long been regarded by aficionados as conferring a huge advantage on those who know the vagaries of the Hauraki Gulf over those who don't).
It seems to be that the $99 million package offered to TNZ by the government and the Auckland Council isn't enough. It's not clear whether that offer, in cash and kind, really does fall short of what is needed, or simply doesn't match what other countries might be prepared to offer.
There is no doubt that staging a regatta like this, not to mention building a boat that will win it, is enormously expensive. There is also little doubt that the government, if not Auckland ratepayers, could come up with more if they were so inclined.
As has been pointed out many times over recent weeks, and long before this current impasse, that the taxpayer does very well out of the America's Cup. Competing teams not only pay eye-watering sums in GST, but also contribute PAYE over a period of months before the event. Whatever sum the government might invest, it will be repaid, and more. And there will be ongoing benefits, in terms of tax revenue and employment, from the regatta's impact on this country's boat-building and maintenance industries.
If the government is concerned about getting a return on its investment, it doesn't need to be. It's refusal to chip in more than it has offered so far cannot be based on the prospect of making a loss.
The government simply has an aversion to contributing to what is seen by some as a rich man's sport. And other priorities, like building a cycleway over Auckland Harbour, generally accepted as appealing to a very small number of cycling enthusiasts, for $685 million (or $785 million, depending on who's telling the story), which by the most generous calculations will 'lose' up to 60 cents for every dollar spent. Perhaps it is loath to give the impression that it is funding a sporting event that is largely the preserve of extraordinarily wealthy individuals. That is the very criticism that has been made by many over the harbour cycleway, albeit just wealthy, without the extraordinarily.
The Auckland Council might not stand to rake in actual cash if the next regatta defence was to be staged there, but there is no doubt that past defences have made a lot of money for some of its ratepayers. They will be very sorry to see the next one go overseas.
It is the government that is open to criticism here though. In refusing to increase its offer it is not saving taxpayers' money. Rather it is missing an opportunity to take money out of some very deep pockets to our distinct advantage. Its parsimony is inexcusable, based more, one suspects, and not for the first time, on perceptions rather than reality. It should dig a lot deeper, and make its proper contribution to ensuring that the America's Cup remains New Zealand's Cup.
The great disconnect
The government's reluctance to invest in the America's Cup is just another example of the great disconnect it more routinely displays with New Zealanders who don't live in Auckland. Remember last month's catastrophic floods in Canterbury, and the aid that the government offered the region's farmers? Half a million bucks. To put that in some perspective, one farmer lost 27km of fences and five bridges. The government aid wasn't going to do much for him, or if it did, leave much for anyone else.
That's half what it gave to support India's fight against Covid-19. One trusts the sub-continent was truly grateful.
At about the same time that it announced hundreds of millions for a cycleway over Auckland Harbour it baulked at spending $30 million for a new bridge in Ashburton that would reconnect the upper South Island with the lower.
Now it has introduced a tax on internal combustion engine vehicles, to encourage a switch to electric, a tax widely, and rightly, perceived as penalising those who cannot afford electric, or for whom they simply won't work, on behalf of the much wealthier (and city-living) who can.
The Significant Natural Areas debacle betrayed an appalling lack of understanding of how rural New Zealand functions, and now the Prime Minister has declared that a lot of New Zealanders who drive "utes" don't actually need to. Farmers and tradesmen yes, others no.
Some might be tempted to say that they will get rid of their planet-destroying four-wheel-drives when Clarke Gayford gets rid of his.
We might all have to make sacrifices if we are to reduce our climate-changing emissions, although we have no power whatsoever to save the planet, but if would be mollifying to see some sign that in this, as in our Covid-19 strategy, we really are a Team of Five Million. And some sign that Jacinda Ardern meant her election night promise that her government would govern for all New Zealanders.