WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) — Just minutes after Team New Zealand won the America’s Cup sailing series on the water Wednesday, the government was offering up cash to keep the team together and the racing at home for the next match.
“We want to see it all over again in 2023,” said Stuart Nash, the minister responsible for the America’s Cup.
Indeed, the government took the unusual step of offering money to Team New Zealand before it had even asked. It didn’t say how much, but it’s likely to be several million dollars up front and much more later on.
In a sport dominated by billionaires, the New Zealand government wants to stay one step ahead of other teams eager to poach talent, and of moves that could see races held in another country.
It comes after Team New Zealand paid a British consulting firm to shop around its next cup defense to other possible host cities around the world.
“The defense of the cup offers a global opportunity to promote New Zealand as an innovative and successful nation, with spinoffs in areas like tourism and export deals,” Nash said.
Team New Zealand retained the oldest and most famous trophy in sailing by beating Italian challenger Luna Rossa 7-3 in Auckland, New Zealand’s biggest city.
The government and Auckland Council spent a combined 250 million dollars ($180 million) on building new infrastructure and hosting this year’s event. But the investment didn’t parlay into a tourism boost because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The government said that although it hasn’t yet got a request for money for the next defense, it expects one to come and has agreed to pay for it out of existing budgets — on the condition that the racing stays in New Zealand.
The notion that Team New Zealand could end up defending the cup in Europe, Asia or the Middle East hadn’t been sitting well with fans.
Murray Bridge, the president of the Royal Port Nicholson Yacht Club in the capital, Wellington, watched the race coverage at the club on Wednesday.
“This is the biggest economic stimulus you’re going to get,” he said. “There’s nothing else on the horizon, is there?”
He said he believes that Team New Zealand’s efforts to shop the cup defense around are a tactic to gain more leverage with the government.
“It’s like any business, you’ve got to prove your worth,” he said. “You’ve got to prove to this government particularly, which is very left leaning, that there’s value in it. The employment, the technology, the stuff that’s being exported overseas, the software guys. It’s a big earner.”
Other fans at the club were just delighted to watch the sailing.
Sandra Brown brought along her 18-month-old daughter Miria to watch. Brown has been watching every race she can after work.
“It was amazing, it was really, really cool,” she said of the team’s win. “They worked really hard. They deserved it.”
She said she isn’t a sailor but has fond memories of visiting her uncle in Auckland during previous America’s Cup regattas.
As for Miria, she wasn’t paying any attention to the racing, preferring instead to watch Thomas the Tank Engine.
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