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'Best call of my life' to bring America's Cup to Barcelona

Grant Dalton, CEO of yacht racing event, tells of "phenomenal" arrival in Catalonia and pioneering technology used

Preliminary regatta of the 37 America's Cup in Vilanova i la Geltrú on September 14, 2023
Preliminary regatta of the 37 America's Cup in Vilanova i la Geltrú on September 14, 2023 / Ricardo Pinto / America's Cup
Cillian Shields

Cillian Shields | @pile_of_eggs | Barcelona

September 16, 2023 12:21 PM

September 16, 2023 12:32 PM

It wasn't a popular decision to leave New Zealand, Grant Dalton, CEO of the America's Cup, tells Catalan News, "but to stay would have been to die." 

Dalton, who is also the leader of Team New Zealand, the defending champions in the world's oldest continually running international sports competition, explains that for the 37th edition of the event, New Zealand was on the "wrong side of the world," so they searched for a northern hemisphere host city instead.

Bids came in from all over the planet, and Barcelona, Málaga, and Saudi Arabia's Jeddah were the top three, but as soon as Dalton came to Catalonia to see the details of the bid, "it was pretty obvious it was going to be hard to beat." 

Now, Dalton is ecstatic with the decision to bring the America's Cup to Barcelona. The defending champions have the power to write some of the rules of the next edition of the competition and can choose where it's held as well. 

Listen to the full interview on our Filling the Sink podcast episode published on September 16, 2023.

Barcelona is a "great place to sail," Dalton says. "The port is a key element in terms of creating the atmosphere. The Catalan government and the Barcelona council were united in their wish to have it, along with tourism, the numbers were right, and they could do it in time." 

Yet, it nearly didn't happen at all. Initially, Barcelona port said that January 2024 was the earliest point they could have the land ready for teams to build their bases, and this was too late for the competition. But the port then "moved heaven and earth to get the sites ready as quickly as they can," and teams were able to move in and start building bases an entire year sooner than originally proposed. 

To top it all off, Dalton says the glamour factor of "that single word: Barcelona," was another key factor in bringing the event here. "It's the best call I've made in my life because it's been phenomenal."

The event coming here has also provided "impetus for speed of development." 

Barcelona's Port Vell is going through a transformation with this event that will leave its fingerprints on the city. "Most of it, in time, would have happened, but this speeds it up because it had to happen straight away."


€120 million will be invested in the port of Barcelona to prepare it to host the competition next year, with twenty different improvement projects on the facilities. Around 50% of this investment is provided by private companies.

After receiving such a warm welcome in Catalonia, Dalton decided he wanted to put on a show for his hosts way ahead of the America's Cup proper, which kicks off in earnest in August 2024. That's where the idea of this week's preliminary regatta in Vilanova was born, an event that's expected to attract 40,000 spectators this weekend

"A technology organization that goes sailing"

The America's Cup was first contested in 1851 – it predates the American Civil War by a decade. Back then, the boats used for the race were at the peak of the technology available at the time, and this remains true 172 years later.

"It's a technology race," Dalton explains, "the fastest, highest technology will win this event." Obvious comparisons can be drawn with Formula One, and Dalton points out that there are even two Formula One teams competing also in the America's Cup: INEOS, with the UK team, and Red Bull, with Switzerland. 

Sailors during a preliminary regatta of the 37th America's Cup in Vilanova i la Geltrú on September 14, 2023
Sailors during a preliminary regatta of the 37th America's Cup in Vilanova i la Geltrú on September 14, 2023 / Ricardo Pinto / America's Cup

Sometimes, Dalton says the teams go into a new campaign already planning on using technology that hasn't yet been invented: "They're technically amazing boats."

For a team of 150 people, as is the case with Team New Zealand, only 12 are sailors. The rest of the team comprise of tech engineers, design and computer graphics, computer modeling, CFD, flow, AI, around 45 builders that construct the racing boat, shore crew in the yard that look after the boats. 

There are plenty of office staff in the team too, "there are a lot of lawyers involved in this game, because you've got billionaires and they only know one way, it's kill or be killed," Dalton chuckles. 

Protests against America's Cup

However, it's not all been plain sailing. 

Some neighborhood associations in Barcelona have complained that events such as the America's Cup, which will inevitably result in thousands of people coming to the city for a long period of time, something locals say will have an effect on the housing market and increase prices all round. 

"Each team is like its own village," Dalton says, with around 350 people per team when employees and families are factored in. 

The opening day of the preliminary regatta in Vilanova also saw around 100 people take part in a protest against the event, denouncing "the polluting and inflationary effect" that they say the competition causes. 

The protest also criticized the "clearly elitist" character of the America's Cup. "It's a sport for multi-millionaires," said one of the spokespersons, Magda Domingo, who insisted that the event is "not aimed at the majority of citizens."

Protest against America's Cup in Vilanova i la Geltrú on September 14, 2023
Protest against America's Cup in Vilanova i la Geltrú on September 14, 2023 / Gemma Sánchez

The platform also says the event will have a "very negative impact" on the climate, with a lot of CO2 emissions due to the teams' travel

Dalton says that these issues are on the agenda of the America's Cup and that the organizers want to leave a lasting legacy that will do good for the host city. 

"We're not a raiding party, we want to leave something behind," Dalton explains. "We've set up a legacy fund to help the sport in Catalonia and in Barcelona."

"All I can really say is, I know what the cup does in terms of the positiveness it has, I've never really seen the negative."