Sportsmanship

The picture of Raphael Dinelli strapped to the sinking hull of his boat Algimouss in the 1996 Vendee Globe race, 1400 miles south-west of Australia in horrendous freezing seas remains one that chills me to the bone. It’s the single most frightening image, in my opinion, ever captured in sailboat racing. It is the stuff of recurring nightmares.

The sportsmanship and sheer humanity that Pete Goss showed in turning upwind into 80mph winds and battling for two days to reach Dinelli and rescue him is something that does, and always will, raise the hairs on the back of my neck. In my view, and many others, it’s the finest piece of seamanship ever and rightly Goss became not only a hero in France and Britain but recognised globally. It’s a story everyone who sails and races should know.

Another feat of sportsmanship that deserves mention, albeit in a different sphere, is the 2003 All Blacks vs Wales test match when the Welsh captain Colin Jarvis made a dart for the try line. His progress was dramatically and forcefully ended when All Black back row Jerry Collins knocked him out cold in a desperate tackle to stop a score. Tana Umaga saw the seriousness of Charvis’s state, immediately left his place in the game and ran to the aid of his opponent, removing his gum shield and placing him in the recovery position. This is what real sportsmen do. The game isn’t bigger than life.

In the America’s Cup, at a lower level to these life or death acts but no less significant, we’ve just seen the unbelievable sportsmanship of Grant Dalton, the Team New Zealand boatbuilders and support from the Brits and Italians in assisting American Magic in its hour of need. The sight of Pete Burling on the scene folding sails and giving every ounce of his considerable ability to avert a crisis is an image that will resonate, with me at least, for years to come. And the roll-your-sleeves up attitude of TNZ boatbuilder Geoff Senior was exemplary – as was his team who worked miracles round the clock to mould the new structure for Patriot. It’s wonderful to see. It’s genuine. You know the real deal when you see it.

At a base level we want to see sport played on a level playing field. Yes sport is about winning and losing, but how you win is just as important. How you play the game is paramount. Paul Elvstrom nailed it when he said: “You haven’t won if, in doing so, you lose the respect of your competitors.” And as usual, the Great Dane was right. Respect is earned. Losing it is remarkably swift.

So it’s disheartening to see the latest news filtering back 12,000 miles from the land of the long white cloud that agreement has not been reached between Team Ineos and the Prada boys to nullify the patently ridiculous Claim of Non Compliance (CNC) that will see the Brits go into the final of the Prada Cup one strike down and on the precipice of having a race nullified for any further rules infringement. In the interests of sport, I would strongly urge the Prada gang to think again and get back around the table. The tone is wrong. The intent is clear. And once again, when an olive branch of reason is offered it has been rejected.

This will come back to haunt Prada. The gloves are off now. In the past, picking a fight with the British was pretty much fair game. Under Ben Ainslie, Grant Simmer and Jim Ratcliffe’s reign you are playing with dynamite. The response will be fire and fury. You don’t want to make Ben angry – that’s a really bad idea as recent history attests.

It’s the cheapest of cheap shots. And quite simply there will be no tears when Luna Rossa are clinically dispatched and remembered merely as a footnote in this America’s Cup cycle. They are playing this game wrong, immersed in an obvious, dated narrative that is not befitting of this wonderful regatta set in these strained global times. It sticks in the craw like a cheap Instagram influencer on a jolly in Dubai.

©Ricky Wilson / Stuff.co.nz

We enter the Prada Cup final safe in the knowledge that Prada is playing ugly. The only way to counter it is to do the talking on the water. Nothing succeeds like success. The definition of a pyrrhic victory is: “a victory that comes at a great cost, perhaps making the ordeal to win not worth it.”

‘Pyrrhic Prada’ – it’s got a ring to it and it might just stick.

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2 thoughts on “Sportsmanship

  1. Dare I say this is no worse than Prada, having seen the capsize, and in the sure knowledge they had won the race, no need for a point, sailing to the finish. “Don’t be so naive!” That’s quite normal these days. These days, yes. I recall reading of a certain America’s cup in the old days when, after a topmast break on one boat her rival abandoned the race rather than sail the course alone. Naive, yes. Noble, certainly. Is the game worth the candle, as they used to say?

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  2. And of course the ultimate yachting verdict. “A sport played by gentlemen; and of course you can’t be too careful with gentlemen!”

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