Oh dear. Reports coming out of Auckland are suggesting that Ineos Team UK has been selected as Challenger of Record in a back-room deal between the Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron and the Royal Yacht Squadron in Cowes. The usually spot-on website Live, Sail, Die is breaking the news – rather them than me this time! If true, it is simply fantastic news for British supporters but one almighty kick into touch for the Italians at the most inopportune time just ahead of the Prada Cup Final this weekend. It’s the fire we warned about. Just wait for the fury on the water. It just couldn’t be better timing for the British to upset and usurp Luna Rossa who haven’t clicked in Auckland with an approach and a strategy that has been curious to say the least.
And for all of us foiling fans, the news gets even better as it seems that the AC75s will be kept for the next Cup cycle and there’s even rumour that it could be in just three years time if the Kiwis defend plus a World Series thrown in. It’s breathless stuff and truly sensational, aspirational news that is so welcome.
The website states: “Live Sail Die understands that there is strong agreement between the two teams about the future of the America’s Cup and the importance of foiling in that future. It is also understood that the current AC75 class will be kept, with the possibility of selling boats to other challengers. This would allow for further development of the radical new class and make it more economic to mount a challenge.”
Fab but the real story is that to be Challenger of Record, means a commitment from Sir Jim Ratcliffe to go again and as British fans that is just the most electric news to come from this Cup. Win or lose, Ineos stays in. I would expect a holding statement issued any time soon denying that a deal has been struck out of respect for Prada but if the team are right at Live, Sail, Die then goodness me what a kick in the teeth it is for the whole Luna Rossa challenge. The team have made no friends in Auckland this cycle and their insistence on holding the Claim of Non-Compliance against Ineos going into this Prada Cup Final is the first sign of what I warned about of that decision coming back to haunt them.
Logically you could see Patrizio Bertelli throwing his toys out of the pram now and when/if Prada get eliminated then the sponsorship ties being completely withdrawn. We could well be looking at an Ineos Cup for the challengers in 2023 and an Ineos World Series if everything falls into place. What a marvellous sponsorship that would be. The possibilities are endless. Formula 1, here we come.
Jim Ratcliffe wants to take this sport and drag it kicking and screaming into the modern world and I have to say, it’s brilliant and just what the Cup needs. The cosy boys club shoreside needs dismantling and this sport, that has all the ingredients to be massive, can be allowed to evolve and tap into rich seams of sponsorship revenues, broadcast rights and media opportunities – and think of the territories the travelling circus could travel to: China, the Gulf, America, South America, Europe, what about Africa? Cape Town would be awesome for the Cup. Ineos are the outfit that would, could and should revolutionise the America’s Cup which, apart from the boat design, has largely not evolved structurally in 20 years.
But what must the Prada boys be thinking now? Three days out from their shining moment of intended glory and they’ve been hit for six with this. A better psychological blow you could not strike. The press conference will have a vicious undercurrent, despite the denials and rebuttals that will flow, and it’s all on now. Expect a “it’s way too early to be talking about that” line to be trotted out by the Brits and a “we’re just concentrating on the racing” – what else can they say, but behind the scenes everyone knows the score. “The times they are a-changin'” as Bob Dylan would say.
Talk about destabilising PR – this just put a rocket under Luna Rossa and set them firmly in the outcasts mould. The next few days will be compulsive, riveting viewing.
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