new auckland

America’s Cup buildup foiled by virus

International events leading to America's Cup 36 in Auckland next summer have fallen victim to the Covid-19 crisis - and now the border closure raises doubts over preparations for the event proper from December to March.

The closing of New Zealand's border to all foreigners announced late yesterday would affect Cup crews, families and supporters if it continues for much of this year - a scenario that is possible under the open-ended nature of authorities' plans, Newsroom understands. 

Team NZ and the three confirmed challengers were to race in Cagliari, Italy, in late April and in a second America's Cup World Series event in Portsmouth, England in June. The first is now off, formally cancelled on Thursday morning, and the Portsmouth regatta is likely to go the same way. Team NZ's first boat was mid-journey to Italy but its crew remain in Auckland.

The lead-up events were to be the first showdowns of the foiling AC75 boats and give the Italian, UK, US and New Zealand entrants a chance to try out their new creations in competition.

In Auckland, the summer's Cup season was set to start with a pre-Christmas series, before the Prada Cup challengers series beginning in January and the Cup proper between the triumphant challenger and Team NZ in March.

Preparations for the event, a centrepiece of a big 2021 for Auckland, which includes sports world cups and the Apec leaders meeting, had been on track before the global convulsions set off by the Covid-19 spread, and international border, sports and community lockdowns.

The sites for bases for the three challenging teams were completed ahead of schedule and within budget by the alliance established by the Government and Auckland Council to build the America's Cup Village near the old Tank Farm at Wynyard Point. The Challenger of Record, Luna Rossa's base is near the Maritime Museum on Hobson Wharf.

Withdrawals from the initial list of potential challengers means there are two additional base sites available to the Cup event organisers. These will now be used to house an international media centre and a special police station and base for the harbour master.

Courses are set, one close to Westhaven and the Auckland Harbour Bridge, one near Bean Rock and one near Waiheke, and plans for the festival and fan zone through summer are being developed.

Organisers of the event were upbeat about arrangements just two weeks ago at the ceremony to mark one year until the first race in the Cup match.

With the earlier racing events due in nine months, however, the global delays arising from travel bans and stand downs, as well as interruptions to supply chains for imported goods, could yet play havoc with the teams' programmes in Auckland.

Sailing squads and their land-based staff will need to get to this country to be able to set up properly and use the months before racing to learn the Waitemata's sailing secrets. Even a temporary border closure to foreigners - for a few months - would narrow the window for adequate preparations. A longer border closure would make summer racing schedules difficult.

Freight, including boating equipment, could face delays. If the restrictions on numbers at public events remain, the America's Cup Village programme would be affected.

Estimates for the periods subject to Covid-19 protection measures range from three months to 18 months. 

In the meantime, all organisers can do is adopt a business-as-usual approach and try to keep the Village development and Cup teams' facilities on track. From a development viewpoint, the city still believes all can be ready for the December racing. 

Barry Potter, Auckland Council's head of infrastructure and environmental services, and a member of the board of the Cup project alliance, said while the sites for the bases had been handed over on time to the syndicates, much was left to complete. Major works on drainage to improve the waters around Wynyard Point and the Cup bases would be finished within months, and a project for pontoons for visiting super yachts was in the works.

Potter believes the project has become a poster child for 'alliancing' - in this case combining the efforts of the council, Government, McConnell Dowell, Downer, Beca and Tonkin + Taylor. 

For Auckland, a lasting change will be the disappearance of 'most of the tanks' from the old tank farm. Nine will remain near a revamped Silo Park as a heritage area, and some on the end of Wynyard Point will go after the Cup defence has passed.

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