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Maori protester crushes America’s Cup with sledgehammer

March 14, 1997

AUCKLAND, New Zealand (AP) _ The America’s Cup, the oldest trophy in international sports and yachting’s most coveted prize, was badly damaged Friday by a man who struck it repeatedly with a sledgehammer.

Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron commodore John Heise described the man as a 27-year-old Maori protester, ``in a frenzy″ and chanting in the ``Maori language.″ His name was not released.

Police said he walked into the Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron clubhouse dressed in a suit, shirt and tie, and made his way unchallenged to a first-floor room where the Cup is displayed in a glass case.

Heise said the man carried the sledgehammer into the building inside a bag slung over his shoulder.

``The Cup has been very, very badly beaten up,″ Heise said. ``He hit it a number of times with a big sledgehammer.″ He said the 3-foot-high silver Cup was crushed around its midsection.

Police spokeswoman Joanne Gibbs told The Associated Press that the man repeatedly smashed the glass casing.

Witnesses said the man tried but failed to get the Cup out of the broken cabinet. He then tore off his jacket and shirt to reveal a protest-labeled T-shirt, which police said bore Maori slogans.

Gibbs said the exact nature of his protest was not clear.

Nearby building workers grabbed the man, who was cut by broken glass.

Police said they expect to charge the man with criminal damage and willful damage, which carry a maximum penalty of two years in jail.

The Cup probably will be sent back to the manufacturers, Garrards, in England, for repairs. Heise said the company apparently still had the original drawings of the trophy, made about 1850.

Team New Zealand became only the second foreign crew in 144 years to take the America’s Cup away from the United States when the black boat with the silver fern logo, dubbed ``Black Magic,″ completed a 5-0 whitewash of Dennis Conner’s Young America syndicate off San Diego on May 13, 1995.

``We’re just deeply dismayed. We are extremely sorry for the Royal Yacht Squadron, commodore Heise and the New Zealand people,″ said George Isdale, vice commodore of the New York Yacht Club, home to the Cup for 132 years until 1983 when Allan Bond won it for Australia.

Maori, New Zealand’s indigenous people, represent about 15 percent of the country’s population of 3.6 million. Maori leaders claim their land has been taken and that their people have been mistreated and discriminated against.

In recent years, Maori have gone to court to settle old land disputes and to force the government to fund teaching of the Maori language in schools and colleges.

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