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has dalton blown it?

New Zealand has always tended to exhibit a rather aggressive approach when it comes to expressing its national sporting pride. 

Before every rugby match the NZ team – the All Blacks – perform the Haka, a traditional Maori war dance. They glare directly at the opposition players while beating their chests and chanting words of ‘to the death’ defiance. The Haka sometimes ends with an unambiguous throat-cutting gesture. Not too much “friendly competition between nations” going on there.

But while that level of intensity and commitment has often delivered the Kiwis impressive international sporting success, it also has a downside. An all-or-nothing approach can entail the nasty risk of leaving you with, well… nothing.

The current tug-of-war over which city will host the next America’s Cup series is a case in point. The holders, Emirates Team New Zealand lead by Grant Dalton, get to choose the location. Dalton has opted for a high-stakes negotiating position, rejecting a $100m combined offer from the NZ government and Auckland city council. 

Not surprisingly, many New Zealanders were outraged. The notion that their own team would choose not to defend the Cup on home waters just because Dalton and ETNZ reckon they can get more money elsewhere is an affront to national pride. 

Likely front-runners for the dubious honor of hosting AC37 are now Cork in Ireland, Valencia (Spain), and anywhere with a decent harbour in the Emirates. A decision is expected by September 17.

But a new consortium in New Zealand has launched a rearguard action. Under the leadership of petroleum mogul Mark Dunphy, they have made a takeover/funding offer that would ensure the next Cup series was sailed in Auckland.

But here’s the catch: that deal is conditional on Grant Dalton not being part of the New Zealand team. How’s that for an elbows-out play! 

Clearly, there’s some lingering bad blood involved, and Dalton now finds himself neatly wedged. 

If he persists in taking AC37 to a foreign city then the NZ public will be very difficult to assuage. On the other hand, if he falls on his sword to keep the Cup series in New Zealand then Dalton will be seen as just another sailing mercenary who over-played his hand. They are yet to forgive Russell Coutts.   

Predictably, the ETNZ public relations machine took less than a day to crank out a long media release piling praise on Dalton while damning the Dunphy offer. “Dunphy’s actions are compromising our performance towards winning the 37th America’s Cup”, they proclaim. Dalton, meanwhile, has harnessed “the unbeatable power of the team – something money cannot buy.”

Whoops! That’s hardly a clever claim to make when it is precisely ETNZ’s quest for yet more millions that precipitated this whole mess in the first place.

– anarchist David