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Barcelona for the 37th America’s Cup

I talk to Grant Dalton about the decision

The defence of the next America’s Cup will be in Barcelona in Sept-October 2024.

Those that were at or remember the 32nd America’s Cup in Valencia will know that the last time the event went to Spain it turned out to be a massive success one of, if not the biggest in Cup history.

From 2004-2007 Valencia provided the focal point for the prestigious trophy and drew in hundreds of thousands of visitors. It pulled in advertisers and sponsors and lucrative rights deals for TV and radio. So much so that the event made a profit by the end and each team received a bonus.

Spain’s location at the heart of Europe and its easy access from further afield in the northern hemisphere was clearly a large part of the success.

The biggest concern back then was the wind. Despite having a reputation as a sea breeze driven venue, the 25tonne IACC v5 monohulls of the day were thought to need more than the Mediterranean coastal breezes could reliably offer to create exciting, punchy racing. As it turned out the conditions were generally not the issue, and overall their bulk was not as big a problem as the disparate range of performances between some of the teams. Plus, we had a decent helping of breezy days too with punchy waves to match.

Today, the modern AC boats only need 6 knots true to get foiling and 10 knots to achieve speeds of around 30knots – wind isn’t the issue.

So, as someone who witnessed at first hand the entire cycle of the 32nd America’s Cup, I’m really looking forward to Barcelona in 2024. But I suspect that this is a decision that will not go down well with all, especially New Zealand.

The Kiwis have a long, proud and successful track record in the Cup which has been the catalyst for all kinds of business and infrastructure developments over the years.

But despite having succeeded in hanging onto the Auld mug in 2022, the Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron and Emirates Team New Zealand who represent them were unable to attract sufficient funding from both the government and private/corporate backers to mount a home defence for the next cycle.

I spoke to Kiwi boss Grant Dalton shortly after the announcement was made and he was crystal clear about why the Cup wasn’t being hosted in New Zealand.

“We have no argument with the [NZ] government. They put what they thought was the right number based on the climate and I think the number was the right number, frankly, because there's bigger priorities in the world and New Zealand,” he said. “But that wasn't going to help us defend the Cup.

“The priority has always been the team. So you’ve got to make sure not only that the team is secure, but also that the team can win.”

But he also believes that the idea of a home advantage for a defence is a misnomer.

“I would say that staying at home is a complete disadvantage because I think it's drives complacency. I think, auntie's 80th birthday party on Saturday afternoon, when I should actually be working on foil design, becomes more important and the team loses focus. We're at our best when we're in raid mode. We're at our best as a challenger, not as a defender. We're at our best when we're angry.”

Having said that, Dalton is more excited than angry right now and clearly upbeat about the core relationships with both the venue and the Challenger of Record, the Royal Yacht Squadron and speaks highly of INEOS’ Jim Ratcliffe.

“Our relationship with the Challenger of Record is rock solid,” he said.

During the conversation he explained why he thought Barcelona was a perfect location, how the harbour was ready made for hosting the Cup and how a team could pretty much start building a base there right now. He discussed how the near proximity of deep water meant that racing could happen close to the shore and how the autumn conditions met the weather criteria.

But he also confirmed that they were working on the idea of a World Series in which some of the venues that lost out on the bid might be invited to host an event.

So, in a corner of our sport that is notorious for its relationship breakdowns and legal disputes, I’d say that the upbeat mood along with the Valencia case history paints a very encouraging picture.

But even so, Dalton is presumably going to take some flack from downunder, but in the end his argument is simple.

“Would the Kiwis really be happier watching us being smashed at home? I cannot compute how it would be better to stay at home and lose.”

Matthew Sheahan

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