The original idea behind this pinnacle of the sailing calendar was for this regatta to be a friendly challenge between countriesÂ to prove who had the best sailing vessels and the finest sailors. And indeed that very much summed up the state of play right up until the early 90′s. In the 90′s things started to change and the two syndicates that started us on this downward spiral were Dennis Conner’s Stars and Stripes, and Bill Koch’s money is no object American Cubed.
Overnight the rules of the game changed forever, Dennis brought a level of professionalism that had never been seen before, he turned the Americas Cup into a profit center. Meanwhile Bill Koch adopted a ‘knowledge is power’ attitude and proceeded to throw god knows how much money into the black art of gathering information. The 1992 cup battle was one that I was involved in, and it was with shock and horror that I watched this venerable event degenerate into something that even the National Inquirer would report on.
I think the term ‘Industrial Espionage’ is an apt one to describe the events. On what seemed to be on a daily basis were reports of scuba divers taking photos of the all secret keels. There was also the mysterious white power boat, guzini. With smoked glass windows and sporting more aerials than a Russian trawler it was a frequent visitor in and out of the San Diego harbor, usually at very high speed. The official line was that it was a weather monitoring boat, unofficially it was watching what the opposition was up to.
I happened to be in the right place at the right time, and had an opportunity to get up close and personal with Guzini on one occasion. Sail boats don’t make a lot of noise in light wind and I got within about 20 yards before they spotted me. Now I have to confess that I don’t know many meteorologists, but this was the first time a weatherman has ever told me to ‘F**K off’. And with that polite exchange the boat took of like a formula one race car.
Which brings us to the current state of play. As with any game, if you control the rules, the game becomes a little one sided. Even I could win at something if I can make my own rules up. Well that is what is happening with the Americas Cup. The last cup winner. Swiss based Alinghi have not only created their own set of rules for the big event, but through some clever slight of hand are also in charge of the rules concerning the Challenger Cup. Oh that used to be called The Louis Vuitton Cup, and a prestigious event it was. As a company Louis Vuitton exude class, and that was reflected in this event. They have however opted out of sponsorship of the next regatta, and I am sure this decision was made in part because of the bad publicity Alinghi were bringing to the table.
As has now become the norm with the Americas Cup more time is beings spent in the Court Room than actually sailing. The Oracle syndicate has cried foul on the rule changes and the sham yacht club set up for the sole reason of becoming the ‘Challenger of Record’.
In what has now become a straight pissing match between two very rich people Larry Ellison (Oracle) and Ernesto Bertarelli (Alinghi), the Americas Cup has reached a new low point in sportsmanship.
The latest salvo to be fired comes from the Alinghi camp (Defender) that because of the ‘unnecessary’Â legal wrangling the Cup will now be delayed till 2010, or even 2011. This is a huge deal to the smaller syndicates and represents a financial burden that likely some will not be able to deal with. While an extra 20 or 30 million is chump change to Ernesto and Larry, hell they probably have that in their wallets for ‘walking around money’, it likely will result in the demise of some of the lower budget teams.
I say, lets get back to basics, lets go back to the good old days when you shook hands before the race, and went for drinks together after the race. The loser picking up the tab! Sailing does not get a lot of mainstream media coverage, and this current situation is doing nothing for the promotion of the sport, it is just bringing to light the darkest aspects of greed and avarice, putting a very honorable and prestigious event in jeopardy.