Dante’s Inferno

It’s mind boggling to think that just fifteen years ago Instagram, Snapchat, Bitcoin, Spotify, Pinterest, Whatsapp, Uber, Tesla, YouTube, and AirBnB didn’t exist. We were also yet to see an iPad or experience 4G and the blockchain was simply an idea, an algorithmic fantasy on mathematician’s blackboards. And this was just fifteen years ago.

The world moves forward at an unrelenting pace and the way we all consume media, use data and capitalise on digital in our everyday lives is astonishing. The pandemic accelerated the march towards digital by generations. Fuel shortages are leading us to electric cars with enquiries up over 1000% for electric vehicles just this week in the UK. The world is changing and there’s no stopping it.

Culturally the mood is shifting too. Cancel culture is a real. Say the wrong phrase in public and you’re toast. Mental health is high on the agenda and acknowledged regularly in defamation suits. Crimes of the past are being brought to justice. Statues of the celebrated are being torn down. History is being re-visited. And young people entering the workforce now want more than just a pay cheque, they demand a purpose, corporate values and what exactly can you, Mr Employer, do for them. Not the other way around.

Diversity, inclusion and gender equality are now not something to discuss at the end of a three-hour board meeting. They are in pole position, quite rightly, and it’s simply not good enough for our corporate world to talk a good book, put up a few posters and pretend all is okay. Accountability is paramount. The environment and sustainability matters. The modern workforce demands actions, not words.

©ACE / Studio Borlenghi

And this is the backdrop that those in the America’s Cup are faced with and I wonder whether they get it. On the face of it, it’s an ugly spectacle of excess. A very select and diminishing few individuals with wealth beyond imagination committing eye-watering, unimaginable sums of money to something that matters little all told and barely moves a dial of any significance.

It’s a sailboat race that is beautiful in action but vulgar around the edges. The very worst of human nature oft displayed – greed, avarice, duplicity, downright lies, personal attacks, cheating…the list goes on. As it stands today, right now, it’s a bizarre, bewildering platform where the entry fee has sky-rocketed with boats at the extreme requiring enormous computational and man-power to even work. Has the Cup lost the plot and mis-read the room on a gargantuan scale? Would a return to a more manageable state be preferential?

Copyright: Daniel Forster / danielforster.com

Auckland 2021 could well be the last America’s Cup of an era. The 37th edition is looking shaky with effectively only one team tearing up $50 bills at the moment whilst the rest scrabble to cobble together funding.

The big new media names, the newly minted gazillionaires that would be the usual suspects in any other cycle, have largely shunned the event. It’s no longer the pinnacle of human endeavour. Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos, two people who love a challenge, would rather experience weightlessness in low orbit with a vision to conquer inter-planetary travel than get involved with a loaded sailboat race. Meanwhile at the other end of the scale, kids get excited at the regularity of SailGP infiltrating their timelines and find the whole politics of the Cup a bore.

In a generation, without re-invention, the Cup could become a high-profile victim of severe cancel culture. Others are doing it better, right now, right this minute.

@Ian Roman for SailGP

And how many of the new-wealthy will, in a few years’ time (perhaps right now), even register the America’s Cup as a thing? They will look at its lack of diversity and eco-credentials combined with paltry audiences and run a mile from tagging their name to something that doesn’t tick those, and many other, boxes.

This current Cup cycle is limping along and getting desperate casting around on a global scale to bring in the required money. The last stand of the desperate is to tap up the oil rich states who can donate so long as you don’t ask too many questions. That’s a parlous state of affairs. And when only governmental intervention with the others can get a commercial decision over the line, you know that things are mightily wrong.

So what’s the way out of this mess before it’s too late? Well the Cup’s going to have to go through this generational cycle, pause, and take a very long, hard look at itself. Fresh faces dialled into modern sports with a finger on modern culture is where you start. Running a Cup campaign that requires benevolent largesse for little return that runs into the many tens of millions of dollars is absolutely unsustainable. And wholly unpalatable.

The requirement to constantly build new is detrimental. The lack of racing between the regattas is commercially self-defeating. Gender inequality is depressing. The one venue edict is precluding. Things have to change and if they want to project a ‘global sport’ they have to go global – the clue’s in the title. Multi-events need to be scheduled in stone and a timetable set that matters. It simply can’t go on as it is.

My sense is that AC37, if it happens as expected, is a final roar of the dinosaurs with window-dressing. A thorough re-vamp will then not only be demanded but necessitated before it becomes a quirky curiosity on a sailing calendar with about as much resonance as a flotilla regatta.

There are bright minds in the Cup and good people trying to drag it forward. All is not lost quite yet but without root and branch change, the words of Dante before the inferno are rather apt: ‘Abandon hope, all ye who enter here.’

7 thoughts on “Dante’s Inferno

  1. I don’t know if “cancel” is the right word here, that implies active antipathy towards something. If something simply becomes unpopular and people passively drift away, we say it’s… passé.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Maybe the plans of Russel and Larry in the build up to 35 were not so far off the mark after all. A penny for GD thoughts now?

    They would have gone forward in a class they had just dominated for a fraction of the cost. Yet here they are if all is to believe squeezed by the clock, the Unpalatable hosting options and circling billionaires.

    Go on Grant, give Ernie a call see if he wants to “save” your bacon… it might be the last roll of the dice.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yeah, I wonder what sort of situation we would be in now if ETNZ had signed the London Agreement and continued with AC-50s? Would we see some of the social innovations SailGP has been introducing added to the AC?

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Ah, but is the Everest of today precisely the same as the Everest of Mallory and Irvine or Hillary and Tenzing?

      It seems to me that that’s also a situation where technological and business changes have made the experience something very different than it was in days of yore— and one where there is much media questioning of the excesses involved: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Bchx0mS7XOY


  3. Isn’t the ‘problem’ intrinsic to the founding principles of ‘the Cup’?

    Under the attractive proposal of being a ‘friendly competition between nations’ the AC, from the off, has been a technological arms race funded by extremely wealthy people willing to ‘stand under a cold shower whilst tearing up’ a percentage of their fortunes.

    That has been the reality that makes the AC what it is, for better or worse. Something which may be viewed as a ‘problem’, or part of the point.

    To transmogrify it into some kind of franchise, where the beast is tamed is, to quote Grant Dalton himself, simply to turn the AC into ‘just another dirty little regatta’ (apologies if the quote isn’t verbatim – my memory may be failing me).

    By all means introduce gender neutrality and other tweaks to keep the dinosaur evolving, but do we really want to rip it’s heart out?

    In the end there will always be very rich people looking for something to do with their money, and the ‘Deed of Gift’ sits their with its siren song, and a very ugly piece of silverware proclaiming up the glorious tradition.

    If ‘Team NZ’ (I’m a fan) have backed themselves into a corner and priced themselves out of the arms race market, well so be it. That is part of the nature of the beast.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Hey Magnus, here’s a “filler” topic for a day without much news: who would you cast as who in a miniseries about the last 30 years of the AC? I know there have been various discussions of this on other sites and most people seem to agree on Jack Nicholson as Dennis Conner.

    (Although I’m not a movie buff, I agree with other folks’ choices of Keanu Reeves as Ellison, Tom Hardy as Ainslie, and Jeremy Irons as Coutts. Maybe Sam Neill as Dalton?)

    Liked by 1 person

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