Having a Challenger of Record backed by one of the wealthiest men on the planet has its benefits. Things get done. Ideas that have been on the drawing-board get the green-light. The art of the possible becomes real. Impossible is nothing. Visions for what good looks like can be created. Obstacles removed. Progress made.
And it’s all going gangbusters now in the America’s Cup with the announcement of the new AC40 stipulated as a condition of entry to get the class up and running. But what excites me are the texts and emails that I’ve received since the announcement from pretty fluid people in the cash department – perhaps not at the AC sponsoring level – who are eyeing this as a class worth exploring.
The Cup teams will of course drive the class initially and I like Ben Ainslie’s line saying: “We look forward to creating a pathway in Britain that will support both programmes on and off the water, giving our athletes opportunities for success in competition, whilst also helping to bridge the gap into professional sailing.” And you know that in Britain we will do that pretty amazingly – look at the Olympic development programme. It’s the “off the water” reference that I particularly like – SailGP’s ‘Inspire’ programme has to be the starting point to give people opportunity. How much better can the AC do?
On the water though, the ‘pathway’ is what we’ve all been banging on about for female and youth athletes to participate. I’ve been in the camp for female athlete mandates on the AC75 boats themselves (and to be honest I am still there) but I had my opinion changed over a bowl of spaghetti with Britain’s top female Waszp sailor the night before our cross-Channel attempt in August.
“I’d want to be there on merit,” she told me politely, calmly and directly. And she’s right. I shut up (for once). I also take Grant Dalton’s view expressed privately to me about ‘tokenism’ and again I agree with the legendary boss and go silent. It makes me stop and think.
But what’s so important is that a pathway is lit and thrust under floodlights of the mega-watt variety to female athletes (and the next generation of AC aspirers) so that future places on the monster 75’s can be won on pure, unadulterated merit. It will happen. Up until today the route was Olympic success, a guest appearance on a SailGP boat or perhaps some decent foiling results and a hope and prayer that someone notices but it wasn’t a pathway. This announcement is.
The Cup hierarchy should be applauded for getting this off the ground. It needed Jim’s signature and he gave it. Willingly. Boat builders in New Zealand are tooled and ready to deliver the new class and that’s a huge shot in the arm for the industry. There’s a buzz now. New Zealand will immediately benefit as a first small pay-back for running the Auckland AC this year. The first boats will emerge under Protocol adherence but fast-forward perhaps two years and we’ll see privateers, yacht clubs with ambition and syndicates that are thinking about the big-time and those that aren’t and just want to be a part of it, buying these boats and travelling on the world circuit. It’s genius. It’s akin to the lower Formulas in motor-racing and it offers hope and both global and local opportunity.
What a circuit to join though. Can you just imagine it. Forget trundling around the pro-circuit in water-shifting 40, 50 or maxi classes. Everyone and his dog is going to want to be in the AC40’s. It’s going to be banzai. The boats will be magnificent – stored power and four/five up. Brilliant. I want to sail one right now. Immediately.
And think of the pressure that will be applied by committed privateers on the AC Teams who will be expected to perform. Real superstars could be found quickly and the transfer market will be electric. If you’re fresh out of your country’s youth squad, fit as a fiddle and want to go into the big league, get talking to the nascent privateer teams and forge your way to the Cup. I love it. What an opportunity. Or maybe you’re at the mid-point of the scale with some stock market or crypto flash cash burning a hole and just want the thrill of the class – it’s a remarkable chance to race against the best in the business. And marketing managers will be far more amenable to your call and that PowerPoint prezzer you’re writing right now…
Hats off to Grant Dalton and Jim Ratcliffe for getting this one away. As I say, visionaries see things long before the rest of us wake up. The America’s Cup just took a big step forward, a giant leap, and set an unstoppable course. These two are great for the Cup and the working relationship is, I have been told, extremely strong.
Grant knows the massive threat that Ineos pose. Jim appreciates the position that he is in. The sport is richer for the way they are conducting themselves and this announcement, I understand, is the tip of the iceberg. The America’s Cup is set fair barring court intervention – let’s hope sense is seen and a global perspective taken in these horrific times. Good things are happening. Progress needs to be encouraged.
Now for the venue…Inshallah (or is that Slainte?).