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The SailGP races took place in Christchurch, New Zealand at the weekend, but only just.

From the beginning, this event has been dramatic to say the least. Hosting rights were taken away from Auckland after SailGP bosses reportedly decided it wasn’t spectator friendly enough.

So, the event was held in Lyttelton, a beautiful location on the Banks Peninsula in Canterbury.

But, before the starting gun had even fired, there was chaos on the water.

What was the issue? Cheating? Crashes? Weather?

No. There was a dolphin on the racecourse.

Due to rules put in place well before the event was even confirmed, any wildlife located on the course would mean racing would be paused. 

Perhaps it was thought this wouldn’t happen.

Sir Russell Coutts, the chief executive of SailGP has labelled the decision to stop racing as “extreme.”

However, the Christchurch City Council and local Iwi say they had even warned race organisers of the risks of hosting the event in Lyttelton at this time of year when Hector’s dolphins are known to breed.

Coutts said the dolphin incident was “another example of New Zealand being handcuffed by unprecedented layers of bureaucracy and red tape”.

“I find it astonishing the amount of influence iwi have over the authorities here in New Zealand.”

Coutts’ opinion is clear, but he’s not exactly Aotearoa’s biggest fan.

Critics of the decision have agreed that it made New Zealand look “stuck,” or left behind from the rest of the world.

I couldn’t disagree more.

In the tourism industry, conservation is more than just a buzzword.

More and more travellers are looking for sustainable and authentic travel experiences.

The decision not to allow multi-million dollar yachts sail a race to ensure the safety of a dolphin massively boosts New Zealand’s clean, green, conservation-friendly image.

There will be people around the world reading a headline that little old New Zealand had prioritised wildlife over a glamorous sports event, and that could be all it takes for the country to progress up their list of places they want to visit. It might even convince them to click the book now button.

You only have to look at the fast growth of cruises to places such as Antarctica to see that experiences related to wildlife and conservation is what the market is seeking. 

And, economically it’s the end of the market that New Zealand will be wanting to appeal to.  Wealthy travellers.

So, let Coutts complain. He might take the event away from New Zealand completely. It wouldn’t be the first time he’s taken a major sailing victory away from a mass of loyal Kiwi fans.

For what it’s worth. New Zealand went on to win the weekend’s sailing.

It sounds like SailGP won’t be returning to Lyttleton, but the event’s loss is New Zealand’s gain. 

In my opinion, SailGP and it’s now infamous dolphin was a win for New Zealand, both on and off the water.