Tough weekend for British sport. Hard to watch at times. In the Ryder Cup, the European team wasn’t so much beaten as steam-rollered by youthful brilliance and technical mastery from an American side with talent to burn. Several of the team from these parts looked like they were forcing the issue, playing one more Ryder Cup than they should have reasonably been allowed. Youthful talent matters. Batons were being passed.
And then came the utter schooling of Britain’s poster-boy boxer, Anthony Joshua, who met a hard-as-nails, fired up Ukrainian who had locked himself away in training camp since February in order to produce a boxing display from the Gods.
Aleksander Usyk came out smoking and never tired. As a boxing fan, it was well worth the fee to the satellite channel to witness 12 rounds of pure brilliance, tinged with feint hope that a Joshua haymaker would upset the apple-cart in the dying rounds. It wasn’t to be.
Even the Formula 1 was bitter-sweet. Sir Lewis master-classed it once again but what has really upset the betting odds is that his young Dutch rival in the Red Bull, Max Verstappen, started last on the grid but clawed up to second place. Despite taking the overall championship lead, Hamilton is still second-favourite to lift the title with fast tracks like Jeddah and Mexico being eyed as banana-skins.
So what does all this have to do with a yachting blog and specifically the America’s Cup? Well the talent-game is all on at the moment. SailGP is proving to be the shop window for the Cup but this pesky nationality rule is becoming almost a restriction of trade clause for some big names who would be snapped up in an instant in an open market. Think how you’re feeling if you’re Tom Slingsby or Nathan Outeridge, even Billy Besson. You are firmly on the outside. It’s a rule proposal that has to be amended – and I’m saying this as a British fan where we are holding a lot of aces.
This is what was decreed: “A new crew nationality rule will require 100% of the race crew for each competitor to either be a passport holder of the country the team’s yacht club as at 19 March 2021 or to have been physically present in that country (or, acting on behalf of such yacht club in Auckland, the venue of the AC36 Events) for two of the previous three years prior to 18 March 2021. As an exception to this requirement, there will be a discretionary provision allowing a quota of non-nationals on the race crew for competitors from emerging nations.”
So your choice, if you’re an outsider, is to either spend the next three years in a simulator playing computer games against Ben or Jimmy or head out to China and try to convince a friendly billionaire to put a challenge together. Forgive me for thinking that some will prefer to actually sail and will double-down on their Moth campaign, stick to the Laser for a tilt at Paris 2024 or take the money and the razzmatazz at SailGP. The America’s Cup is poorer for it. Almost destitute.
I can understand why the clause has been mooted but the thing is, the pro sailors won’t challenge it, fearful of being cast as ‘difficult to work with’ if they do. Professional sailing is a precarious profession at best and engenders a breed of characters that daren’t rock the boat. Not one single sailor has come out publicly and said this is a ridiculous situation and that Team New Zealand and the Challenger of Record has got it wrong. Why? Because these teams are powerful and can kick you to the roadside faster than a Mike Tyson in-his-prime left lead. Your card will be marked forevermore and your chances of even getting on a SailGP boat will be dashed. A career in accountancy beckons.
These kinds of ridiculous clauses get passed in a wave of announcements and sit there unquestioned by all like decrees sent down in tablets from on high. It’s like a World Sailing decision – whatever you do don’t criticise it or you won’t get Olympic accreditation. Journalists are the worst at this and most sailing journalists should be shot for their supine attitude to the decision-makers. It’s no good carping after the event.
In the Cup however, there’s no union to appeal to (apart from the powerful Grinder’s Union that seems to have won out again) and really good sailors, at the peak of their powers are restricted from challenging and pushing those lucky enough to have the correct passport or ancient history with yesterday’s teams. It’s bizarre in the extreme and now that it has been stated, is incredibly difficult to row back from.
I don’t really care for the argument that Team New Zealand will present on this. It’s all plain wrong and wouldn’t happen in any other major global sport – especially one that is trying desperately to grow its appeal. What would be sensible, but almost 100% will not happen, is an amendment to this at the 11th hour in the spirit of inclusivity. But the problem is that with all that has gone on in the last fortnight, and the rumours of the Swiss potentially buying their way into the Cup late in the day, is that this is one rule that will most likely be cast in stone. It’s an anti-Ernesto clause. What a great pity.
The 37th America’s Cup needs several elements to be successful. First, it needs teams and it really doesn’t matter where they come from but they have to have entries. Second, it needs to be in Auckland for the Match – that’s a no-brainer and anything else is a sham cop-out. Third, it needs the best sailors vying for the title – not a cliquey elite – it must have the very best in every department. Fourth, it needs racing relentlessly for months on end. Not the stop-start nonsense we had in Auckland with three week delays between rounds. Thrash those donkeys. And finally it needs dynamite comms across all formats married with fabulous photography and live broadcast free-to-air globally – and to hell with what the American networks say.
Get it right and the Cup goes stratospheric. Get it wrong and watch SailGP sail off into the distance – can you imagine what that event would look like if they threw out the foiling cats and went foiling monohull? They would kill the Cup stone-dead. And with Larry’s foresight and Russell’s brilliance who’s to say they’re not planning that already…
Drop the nationality clause or amend it significantly. What we don’t want to watch is aged rock-stars there by dint of birthright and luck. We don’t want to see sailors akin to the European Ryder Cup debacle just passed. We don’t want to see tired boxers who were good years ago. We don’t want to see youth suppressed.
Give us the brightest, fastest, most dynamic sailors on the planet supported by the world’s best in every position both on the boat and shoreside or face the consequences.