Is the current nonsense which masquerades as an America's Cup match harming the sport? Or will it ultimately be the catalyst for an event which once again turns the world's eyes to the sport of sailing?
In an interview with Valencia Sailing recently, Australian match racing legend and acting president of the World Match Racing Tour, Peter Gilmour, suggested that Golden Gate Yacht Club's multihull challenge and subsequent legal actions have actually strengthened the Tour.
Commenting on a major investment in the Tour by himself and a group of Asian businessmen, Gilmour said: “The reality is that the entire situation of the America's Cup allowed this investment to occur. If we weren't in the current situation I don't think the consortium would have made the same investment. They are excited because we are currently into a light and quiet period.”
The World Match Racing Tour now has nine events around the world. It is recognised as a major source of talent for America's Cup teams. And by targeting Europe, the USA and Asia as venues for its races, it is pitching to the world's strongest economies.
The other major series which will be affected by what happens in the America's Cup is the Audi MedCup, won this year in very convincing fashion by Emirates Team New Zealand. The Kiwi AC squad won the last four events of the series and have sent a strong message to other contenders that they are ready if the AC reverts to an all-comers event.
If the 33rd Match ever gets out of the courts and onto the water, it is likely to be a non-event. In 1988 the world watched with undisguised contempt as Dennis Conner's 60ft catamaran Stars and Stripes led the 132ft monohull New Zealand around the course in a ridiculous procession. As America's Cup historian Ranulf Rayner wrote, “For most enthusiasts the spirit of the America's Cup appeared to be finally in ashes.”
The Cup recovered from this debacle and the matches between 1992 and 2007 were among the best ever, with unprecedented audiences watching on television and new media technology bringing the races right into the living rooms of armchair sailors everywhere. However, one wonders if the phoenix can rise from the ashes a second time.
In my opinion only one of two things can occur after the 2010 event. Either the leading syndicates will get together as they did after 1988, to devise a new class of boat and new rules to stop petulant billionaires hijacking the event, or the Cup will cease to be relevant.
While it would be a shame to lose 158 years of history, the sport of match racing is much bigger than a couple of individual egos. If the Deed of Gift is so flawed that it can be manipulated to allow a contest that is not equal – in other words, not a match race – then we need a brand new contest for the greatest helmsmen and match racing teams in the world to aspire to.
If the America's Cup can't be salvaged, here's my suggested remedy:
Let's create a World Cup of sailing, to be held every fourth year. That will allow the World Match Race and Audi MedCup circuits to continue in their present successful form on an annual basis, and continue to be breeding grounds for the sport's major, iconic event.
Let's get all the syndicates who have competed in these two series together to decide a box rule for a new class with, say, a maximum waterline of 90ft. They could also agree on the first venue, probably Valencia because the infrastructure is already in place. There should also be a return to “nationalism” with the helmsman and 80% of the crew being citizens of the challenging country. To promote boat building skills world-wide, the boat and sails should be manufactured in the challenging country too.
After the first event, the holder of the Cup would decide the venue and the date. And nothing else. Any changes to the box rule or the racing procedures would need to be approved by a 75% vote of all syndicates which took part in the previous event. End of court challenges. End of hijackings.
As the world economy recovers, sailing is on the verge of another growth spurt. It's time the sport had a signature event that is above manipulation by vested interests.
Roger McMillan – Editor