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SailGP in Christchurch received millions in government, council funds

Mar 29, 2024

Sir Russell Coutts' 2024 SailGP event in Christchurch received $2m from the government and an organisation part-funded by ratepayers.

New Zealand won the event on Whakaraupō Lyttelton Harbour last weekend, after the first day of racing was cancelled when endangered Hector's dolphins were sighted on the course for hours.

Sir Russell, the SailGP chief executive, released a scathing statement in the wake of the event.

He criticised the local authorities, their fees and "unprecedented layers of bureaucracy and red tape".

Environment Canterbury, the Department of Conservation and Lyttelton Port Company "enforced services upon SailGP ... that are not required and not demanded anywhere else in the world, yet are nevertheless imposed as a condition for allowing the races to proceed in Lyttelton", he said.

"The costs from those unrequired services total approximately $300,000.

"In addition to that, there are 11 so-called expert dolphin observers that are being paid $600 per day each, plus their expenses in a program that totals $78,000."

DoC mahaanui operations manager Andy Thompson said the department had not charged SailGP at all.

Environment Canterbury, meanwhile, said the Harbourmaster's Office fees to support the 2024 event were $120,000 in total.

The fee covered "event permissions, exemptions and on water management to keep people safe during practice and race days", it said in a statement.

"SailGP and ChristchurchNZ agreed to split that cost and SailGP paid all their required event fees before the event commenced."

Sir Russell Coutts slammed officials after the first day of SailGP was cancelled over a dolphin sighting. Photo: Photosport

It confirmed to RNZ payment was made by 12 March. That was 12 days before the event and 10 days before practices began on the harbour.

Lyttelton Port Company confirmed it had charged SailGP for port usage but did not detail how much the fees were, saying it did not comment on commercial agreements.

However, chief customer and supply chain officer Simon Munt said the port - which is the South Island's largest - had to halt all shipping on the harbour across the three racing and training days.

It also termporarily relocated a cruise ship berth.

Meanwhile, $2.05m was paid towards the SailGP event from the government's Major Events Fund and Christchurch's economic development agency, ChristchurchNZ - which is partly funded by the city council.

ChristchurchNZ said it paid an incentive fee of $400,000 to have the event in Whakaraupō, and a $300,000 "in kind" contribution.

It had already paid the first two installments of the incentive fee, head of major events Karena Finnie said.

The final payment would be made when an event report and completed event analysis had been provided, which usually took six to eight weeks.

She said $54,782.61 (excluding GST) would come out of the "in kind" budget to pay for the other half of the regional council's fee.

Economic Development Minister Melissa Lee said $1.35m had been paid out for the 2024 SailGP event. Photo: RNZ / Samuel Rillstone

This budget included "staffing, marketing, leverage & legacy, live site and other forms of event related support which includes a mix of cash and non-cash".

The funds had come from ChristchurchNZ's Major Events Fund, Finnie said.

She confirmed this was separate from the Government's Major Events Fund, which had pledged $5.4m to support the hosting of SailGP events in Aotearoa from 2023 to 2026.

Economic Development Minister Melissa Lee confirmed $2.7m of that had already been paid out - $1.35m to each of the 2023 and 2024 events.

Sir Russell's statement said "SailGP alone is spending approximately $5.5m NZD [in] the local economy".

SailGP had since confirmed that $5.5m figure was referencing its 2023 event spend in Canterbury.

It came from SailGP reports done by accounting consultancy Deloitte, a spokesperson said.

A breakdown of what the money was spent on could not be provided.

"Budgets for Season 4 are in line with Season 3, so this will not change significantly," the spokesperson said.

The total spend for the 2024 event was due out in the next few months, SailGP said.

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