NZ seeks to capitalise on perception as COVID-19 'sanctuary' as America's Cup sailors heap praise on virus response

As COVID-19 continues to ravage huge swathes of the world, New Zealand is being lauded as the best place to be by some of our fiercest sporting competitors.

The America's Cup village was officially opened on Tuesday morning, and those from the UK, the US and Italy all heaped praise on Kiwis for making it possible for the event to happen.

Dawn broke over Tāmaki Makaurau with a uniquely Kiwi welcome for what's set to be the country's biggest international event next year.

A karakia officially opened the America's Cup village, and it couldn't have come at a better time. 

"It's been a long journey and some real challenges, but look here we are," Auckland Mayor Phil Goff said.

"The infrastructure is in place, the courses have been agreed on, the boats are ready and we're going to have a fantastic spectacle."

It was the first opportunity to see all the teams together, and to a person they all agreed: because of COVID-19, there is no way the event could be held anywhere else in the world right now.

"I think we're all incredibly fortunate that the New Zealand Government showed the leadership they did, and really that leadership led to the event actually happening," said American Magic skipper Terry Hutchinson.

"The response to COVID has been incredible. We feel very fortunate and lucky to be here," INEOS Team UK skipper Sir Ben Ainslie agreed.

"With everything going on, we weren't actually sure if we'd get to come here and race," Luna Rossa helmsman Jimmy Spithill added. "But New Zealand has done a fantastic job." 

The challengers all hail from some of the worst-affected countries, and there was a moment's silence for those who had lost their lives to coronavirus.

"To be here is a privilege; nowhere in the world can one have the quality of life we enjoy in New Zealand," challenger of record Francesco Longanesi Cattani said.

And that's exactly how we're being sold to the world - that life goes on as normal, here at least.

"This is going to be truly aspirational for those looking for a sanctuary for when the borders open. I think this is a massive opportunity to enhance our global brand," Minister of Tourism Stuart Nash said.

Together, the Government and Auckland Council have spent $230 million on event infrastructure - including on transforming downtown Auckland. Goff says it puts more pressure on Emirates Team New Zealand to win the America's Cup again.

"We've invested, both Government and council, in this event. We want to get the return on the infrastructure not once or twice, maybe three times!"

Not that they needed any more motivation to keep the America's Cup, New Zealand's cup.