Hasn’t it gone quiet? You could almost hear a pin drop in the America’s Cup world. Everyone has gone to ground. The emails have dried up. The Whats App’s are quieter than a monk’s convention. The usual shouty suspects that can be relied upon for angular viewpoints have disappeared in a puff of smoke. It almost feels like everyone is locked and loaded, waiting for the first move on “or before” the 17th before the whole scene erupts into a cacophony of lawsuits, public recriminations, political jousting and acerbic position taking. Cats on hot tin roofs spring to mind. It’s a febrile atmosphere.
Morality could be high on the agenda, legacies sealed, fates decided and reputations either ruined, enhanced or sullied. If you’re in this Cup game, the next few days are going to be crucial. It’s building up to the mother of all ruckus’s played out by giant egos, men with more money than sense, armies of lawyers, commodores with time on their hands and us two-bit commentators banging out endless summations and helicopter views. Great isn’t it? Well I would say that.
Amidst the big boys powerplay game however, the most crucial factor is being forgotten and it’s that of public opinion. Whilst people like me just love getting immersed in the fine print, the characters, the politics, the back-biting and all the shenanigans of a controversial Cup (for that is what this is looking like being), the general public and the next generation just look on in despair.
I am extremely fortunate in that I have a hotline to a teenage viewpoint and he thinks the boats are pretty cool – well I would hope so as there are pictures of them from every Cup cycle on every wall in our house – but driving to school trying to explain that we have no idea where the next Cup will be, don’t know the dates, haven’t got a clue what the boats will look like, can’t see a female athlete anywhere in sight, don’t know who’s on the Ineos team (or any of the other teams for that matter) and absolutely no clue who’s going to even be on the start-line and you can start to see why this is a bit of a hard-sell.
“It’s a bit rubbish isn’t it?” He’s right. It’s total rubbish. And then I try and explain about all these rich guys itching to take the Cup to court, proposals to sack legendary team bosses, arguments over the price of peas – I don’t even dare to start mentioning the Protocol – and he’s gone. Instagram rappers and owls with hats on are far more interesting.
This is the problem that the Cup must address. I fear for its future in the modern world. Let’s be honest, dinosaur titans of industry and jurassic team bosses are running the apex of the game. It’s hardly cool. Yes the boats and the 20,30,40-something’s sailing them are very very cool but their multi-million dollar boats are parked up in Auckland and Cagliari gathering dust. The momentum is lost. It’s crawling at a snail’s pace and when you’ve got Ben Ainslie doing a bear-away in a Sail GP boat at 50-odd knots with fire-hydrant spray knocking the boys for six and another fabulous regatta planned for this weekend in St Tropez of all places, you can see why the kids all think Sail GP is the pinnacle. The Cup is coma-inducing. Boring. Ridiculous when you look through the lens of the generations that really matter.
And it’s not just the teenagers. Speak to normal club sailors of any age – you know, the ones that actually do the sport week in, week out – and you get a roll of the eyes when the topic of the next Cup comes up. If the 37th edition ends up in court – whether that be in New Zealand or in front of m’learned friends in New York, it runs the risk of utter irrelevance and could be a fatal blow in these much-changed times.
For those agitating to pull the trigger on legal action whichever way the venue decision falls, think long and hard. Larry and Russell will be rubbing their hands in glee at the first sign of wigs and court documents. Sail GP is the grand prix event attracting the best of the day at the moment and making hay whilst the Cup sits in limbo.
Furthermore, let’s jump into the Gucci shoes (Belstaff surely?) of Jim Ratcliffe for a moment. Here’s a guy with a massive business to run alongside sporting interests like big time football, pro-cycling, a third share in the Formula 1 team Mercedes (no less) plus a pretty cool new 4×4 to promote in the Grenadier. He generously identified that Ben Ainslie is the Usain Bolt of sailing over a beer and went all in.
Jim’s chucked monster sums of dosh into the ring, supported a whole generation of pro-yachties on the circuit, assumed the Challenger of Record position, is more than happy to open the Ineos chequebook again, super happy to sign up for new initiatives around the Cup but ranged against him is a bunch of agitators angling for a theoretical, word analysis fight in the highest courts and throwing hissy-fits at proposed venues. Even the status of his challenging vehicle is being questioned. I wouldn’t be surprised if he walked away. Wouldn’t you? Life’s too short. There’s more fun elsewhere… and more professional sports to be a part of.
My view is that we’re on dangerous ground in the Cup at the moment. Relevance is seeping away every week and whilst us of the misty-eyed generation who find all this guff fascinating and are quite happy to sick up copy or opinion at the drop of a hat all think the Great Game is wonderful, we need to look around at how the world is changing. It’s old rope. It must change. And the most important thing is that the greatest boats with the very best sailors must get sailing again and angling for the prize.
Stick the 37th Cup in the courts and prepare for the backlash. Sailing will move on. Billionaires will get bored. The Cup is two minutes to midnight from needing life-support. Think very carefully before letting egos and dated intellects loose and ushering in the lawyers. The kids don’t and won’t appreciate it and generations could be lost of this utterly fabulous spectacle.
When the Cup’s good (as it was in Auckland) it’s really good. When it’s bad, as it’s looking like being, it’s uglier than the Auld Mug itself.
Tread carefully next week.