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America's Cup Beaten By Political Activist

The following account of the attack on the America's Cup is courtesy of Ivor Wilkins, a New Zealand yachting journalist.

AUCKLAND, New Zealand (March 14, 1997) — About mid-morning, a 27-year-old Maori man dressed in a suit and tie arrived by black Mercedes taxi at the Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron. As he walked in the front entrance, two yachtsmen were arriving to register for the Air New Zealand regatta.

The Maori man said he was doing a research project and wanted to see the America's Cup. As it happened, the event centre for the Air New Zealand regatta was in the same room where the Cup is housed, so they all went upstairs together.

As they arrived, the yachtsmen left him to it and went over to register for the regatta. The man had a bag on his shoulder and from it pulled a sledge hammer with a shortened handle. Chanting Maori slogans, he immediately attacked the bullet-proof glass casing that protects the Cup.

Harold Bennett, event manager of the Air New Zealand regatta, said: "My first reaction was to go for this guy, but he was obviously enraged and, with a hammer in his hand, I didn't think it was the smart thing to do." Bennett dashed out of a side door and called the police, and also got assistance from some construction workers who had being doing renovation work on the Squadron building.

When Bennett returned, the man was kneeling on the floor mumbling. The man had managed to smash through the Cup case and had pulled the Cup off its plinth and attacked it several times with the hammer.

The damage is extensive, but initial reactions are that it can be fully restored. Garrards, the London silversmiths who made the trophy, still have all the original drawings and it will be sent to London for repair.

The base of the Cup is unscathed, but the distinctive bulb around the centre is badly dented. It appears this part was struck from above as it is pushed down. Also, the graceful top section is badly dented and twisted. In no place is the silver punctured.

The man was arrested, but a group calling itself Tino Rangatiratanga Liberation Organisation sent a fax to the news media, threatening further action and demanding sovereignty for Maori and an end to the "illegal occupation" of New Zealand (Tino Rangatiratanga means sovereignty in Maori).

A lawyer for the arrested man said the man believed he had a moral right to do what he did because "the Cup stands for everything his organisation despises".

Team New Zealand boss Sir Peter Blake said he was disappointed and saddened. "Why?" he asked. "There was nothing political about this trophy. It represents sporting excellence."

He said as soon as he heard of the attack, he informed the Team New Zealand crew, who were out in the Hauraki Gulf training on the two black IACC yachts used in the 1995 Cup series in San Diego. "There was a stunned silence. People could not believe it could happen," said Blake.

John Heise, commodore of the RNZYS, said: "One of the nice things about New Zealand's tenure of the Cup so far is that people have been able to see it. The Squadron's view is that the Cup belongs to all New Zealanders, not just this yacht club. "The Trophy has always been very well protected against all normal forms of potential abuse. But how can you legislate for this sort of mindless act."

Prime Minister Jim Bolger, who has been a supporter of the America's Cup, made an appeal: "Blame the individual, not the country and certainly not the Maori people."

Minister of Maori Affairs, Tau Henare (a Maori himself) condemned the attack as a "cheap shot".

Blake said from the moment the attack took place, Team New Zealand had been receiving calls from around the world expressing sympathy and regret.

George Isdale, vice commodore of the New York Yacht Club, which is challenger of record for the 2000 series, said: "We are devastated. We feel very sorry for the Squadron, for Commodore Heise and the New Zealand people. But this will not tarnish the Cup or the whole operation. We will make sure it is the best Cup (series) ever, despite this."

Blake echoed a widely held view that even after the Cup is repaired it is important for it to remain in the public domain, although security will obviously be stepped up. "It is important for the Cup to be seen and not locked away."

The 27-year-old man arrested by police has been charged with criminal damage, which carries a maximum prison sentence of seven years.

See also this earlier report: America's Cup Badly Damaged in Sledgehammer Attack

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