It’s much easier to love a team of rich yachties – win or lose – when you know they’re not gambling with your money, writes Steve Deane

It’s so much easier to love Team New Zealand now that they no longer suckle on the taxpayers’ teat.

I’ve always been a huge admirer of the team’s achievements, but that admiration has stopped short of genuine affection.

I’ve never objected the generous dollops of public money that have held the team together at the seams over the years. I’m lucky to be comfortable enough that the $20 or so per Kiwi per America’s Cup cycle isn’t going to make a tremendous difference to my quality of life. And I’ve always found that, as a fan of quality sport, the return in entertainment value has been more than reasonable.

Team NZ has always made a fairly compelling case that there is a good return from the public money invested in terms of jobs in the marine industry and the potential tourism dollar windfall. I’m happy to buy that, hook, line and carbon fibre daggerboard.

What held me back from genuinely being fond of Team NZ – in the same way that I am of other sports entities – was the lack of accountability to the taxpayer over how its money was spent.

When it was on the teat, Team NZ never married the level of funding it received with an appropriate level of public disclosure. On questions such as how much key executives and crew were paid, they simply tacked away to windward, refusing to engage. That did little to allay suspicions that a fair whack of ‘our’ money was lining the pockets of the privileged white guys who tend to make up the staff at America’s Cup syndicates.

“To dare is to do, and what the Kiwis are attempting could be one of the greatest sporting heists of our time.”

It wasn’t the fact that the likes of Barkers heir Dean and the reasonably well-to-do Grant Dalton were being well remunerated for their efforts that rankled – it was being denied the chance to assess whether those payments were appropriate.

Given that public money was only part of the team’s budget, it’s likely that, when weighed against other top-end public service salaries, the public moolah distributed by themselves to themselves by Team NZ’s brass would probably have stacked up okay. But we’ll never know. And it was that Team NZ didn’t think we had a right to know that, frankly, pissed me off.

Now that the purse strings have been cut – a Callaghan Innovation grant for research and development aside – that resentment has gone. It’s a touch ironic, perhaps, that now they are a fully private entity, I finally feel free to embrace Team NZ as ‘mine’.

No investment has been made on my behalf, so I no longer have a vested interest by default. I’m free to support them or ignore them as I choose. And I couldn’t give a hoot what they disclose and who they disclose it to. That’s their business.

With the elephant that was stinking up the room now happily out to pasture, it’s possible to embrace Team NZ for what it is – a bunch of Kiwis doing great things in a very Kiwi way.

The level of ingenuity, independence and daring they have displayed should be a tremendous source of national pride. They might look like geniuses now, but pitching up to Bermuda with a team of cyclists instead of grinders was an incredibly ballsy move. If it had backfired, and Aotearoa New Zealand had limped around like Sir Ben Ainslie’s self-titled slug, they never would have lived it down. Remember that time the Kiwis turned up wearing lycra with a skipper who was still in nappies and came last? How could anyone forget? 

Every other team claimed to have considered the idea but rejected it as unworkable, which translates as too risky. Well, to dare is to do, and what the Kiwis are attempting – and might just pull off – could be one of the greatest sporting heists of our time.

Genuine outsiders, the Kiwis are the avowed enemy not just of holders Oracle Team USA, but every other syndicate on the circuit. The likes of Artemis, BAR and Japan have happily bought into the concept of regular, chummy regattas in multihulls in front of the multi-chinned types who frequent spots like Bermuda. Doing so lowers barriers to their entry and increases their chance of winning, so fair play to them.

Our mob, my mob, on other hand, have said ‘stuff that, and stuff your tilted playing field – we’re taking this thing home’.

We’ve got no real friends, we turned up late to the party and now, having kicked all the other challengers’ butts, we’re out to raid the hosts’ liquor cabinet, grab the best-looking partner and bugger off home so we can host our own soirée – on our own terms.

Now that’s style. You really do gotta love these guys.

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