A new overseas location has come into the cloudy picture as a contender to host the 37th America's Cup, joining three previously-reported venues as hosting options for Team New Zealand's Cup defence. Paul Lewis reports.
Write down Malaga, in Spain, as a long shot for the venue for the 37th America's Cup – but there may be a firmer bet: some form of legal action in March once the venue is known.
Malaga appears to be the mystery fourth venue hinted at in recent times; it has apparently joined Cork, Barcelona and Jeddah as options for Team New Zealand.
There is, however, another mystery to be solved: will Peter Burling and Blair Tuke leave Team NZ? Will they stay and lead the afterguard again or will they be there in a reduced capacity?
Let's deal with the venue and legal action first, intertwined as they are. Murmurs in yachting circles suggest Cork has been firming recently, with Ireland's government and officials slowly aligning on potential benefits.
However, Malaga has joined Barcelona in Spanish expressions of interest – although it is understood no central government money is yet backing either proposal. Malaga will quicken the interest of many yachties – not only an attractive venue sailing-wise, weather-wise and aesthetically, it is also just down the road from posh Marbella and not far from Seville, one of Europe's prettiest cities.
Saudi Arabia is still there but scuttlebutt suggests they may be No 3 when it comes to the money on offer – and they've been focusing more on last month's inaugural F1 event anyway.
Also still there is the threat of court action – the latest from Sir Edmund "Ted" Thomas, one of the legal brains behind the quashing of the 1985 All Black tour of South Africa. He says he will act if any overseas venue is chosen. Jim Farmer QC has also promised legal action if Saudi is chosen; he and America's Cup Deed of Gift expert (the controlling document of the Cup) Hamish Ross are aligned with Mark Dunphy's Kiwi Home Defence campaign.
It's difficult to see such action being successful. An overseas venue seems Deed-compliant; Alinghi (Valencia, 2007) and Oracle (Bermuda, 2017) have already set a precedent. However that does not preclude legal action, the law and lawyers being what they are, and a possible move to tie the team up in the courts.
If they did succeed and Team NZ dissolves, as team boss Grant Dalton has warned, the Deed says the Cup defence passes to any other New Zealand yacht club which wants to take it on (Mercury Bay Boating Club, anyone?). If there are no takers after three months, it reverts to the previous defender (Oracle).
While the ability of legal action to stop an overseas defence is unclear, it has another useful consequence for the home defence proponents: sowing doubt among potential venues. The public relations campaign has been clever – lobbying potential venues quietly while playing the patriotism card publicly in New Zealand.
The campaign has also run alongside a pre-existing condition, prevalent in those who may not understand all the twists and turns of an America's Cup campaign and see only the money involved. There's been a strong focus on Dalton, whose actions in seeking an overseas venue have attracted criticism in social media and comments sections of media websites by those who scorn "rich boys' toys".
The word "greed" is often unfairly flung at him there – a false implication he is somehow personally benefitting from an overseas venue. The reality is the team is trying to raise enough money to hold the Cup overseas this time, in Auckland next...and Dalton is independently wealthy and has been for many a year.
After Alinghi took the Cup from Team NZ in Auckland in 2003, it sold the hosting rights for a series of regattas across three years to Valencia for about $150 million. That made Alinghi a profit of about $100 million, though no one is suggesting that much will spring from this venture.
Which brings us to Burling and Tuke. The hire of Nathan Outteridge and his combination with Glenn Ashby give the team a crack afterguard in case their other crack afterguard doesn't re-sign.
Burling and Tuke's form in the SailGP series – an event with direct relevance to the America's Cup – has been less than stellar. The Team NZ review after the last Cup concluded the sailing team needed to perform better – a signal they may have had the fastest boat and a design advantage but didn't quite live up to potential.
You also have to wonder about the effect on the team of the pair's reluctance to sign up thus far. Such things erode confidence and popularity within a team.
The duo has made it known they are concerned about Jeddah as a potential venue. The human rights and conservation elements of this (committed ocean conservationists not keen on oil power Saudi Arabia as a venue) is admirable morally but less effective if you want to be a committed part of a professional sports team.
There have been rumours around for some time Burling and Tuke want to run their own team or, more accurately, run their own race as professional sailors and conservation leaders with their Live Oceans charity.
Maybe they will head in that direction this time. If they re-sign and stay, they will be competing for roles in a sailing crew reduced from 11 to eight – which doesn't preclude a double helmsmen approach (as employed by Luna Rossa in the last Cup) but could lead to a flatter management structure.