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The Americas Cup in Chaos
The America’s Cup (or Auld Mug as it is colloquially known) is the oldest sporting trophy in known existence, the first competition in 1851 predating the modern Olympics by almost 50 years. First won by the schooner America, the cup gained almost holy grail status for early 20th century millionaires with names such as Lipton, Sopwith and Vanderbilt all appearing in the early races. Despite the best British efforts however, the America’s Cup was held by the Americans from 1851 to 1983, the longest winning streak in the history of the sport, until it was finally captured by Australian Alan Bond and his radical foot , with wings Australia 2.
Since winning Australia 2, it’s fair to say that the history of the cups has been rather turbulent. The trophy was almost immediately won by the USA in 1987, but this was the year that saw a dramatic extension in the competition of the traditionally 2-team challenge with the American ship Stars and Stripes having to beat an unprecedented 13 challenging syndicates and Alan Bonds. The Australians did not even reach the final of the defenders. It is arguable that the legal difficulties and wrangles that have plagued the event since then can be directly traced to the expansion of the event in 1987. After that, the Auld Mug has suffered through changes in boat classes (reaching a peak in 1988 when an American catamaran beat a New Zealand water slide and the decision was subsequently overturned twice in the courts) and probably the egos of modern multi-millionaire businessmen who are determined to win the cup at all costs and don’t seem to mind if sailors or lawyers do.
The latest threat to the cup comes from current holders Alinghi and their legal dispute with American team BMW Oracle. Incredibly, union Alingi hail from landlocked Switzerland but their squad, which has held the cup since 2003, is packed with global sailing stars with a strong contingent of New Zealanders. Adding spice to proceedings is the fact that Kiwi Russell Coutts, considered by many the world’s greatest sailors, led the challenge to win the Alinghis Cup in 2003 but has since jumped ship to lead rival BMW Oracle.
At the heart of the dispute is the fact that, following their successful defense of the cup in 2007, Alinghi named the Spanish yacht club Nautico Espana de Velo as their record challenger. BMW Oracle, headed by software billionaire Larry Ellison, successfully challenged this in the courts on the grounds that the Club Nautico Espana de Velo was not a functioning yacht club, merely a shell that had been created to manage a cup challenge. Of course there was widespread concern in cup circles about the relationship between Alinghi and the Spaniards and as things stand, American syndicate BMW Oracle is the nominated challenger for the next cup. Unfortunately for the oldest sporting event in the world, the legal challenges have not stopped and at the moment it is still uncertain when the next cup will be held, in which country it will be and even in which type of boats it will be contested. The fallout from this has been considerable. The Cup has lost Louis Vuitton as a sponsor and other challenger syndicates (which include British Team Origin, led by Olympic star Ben Ainslie), have been significantly hampered in their ability to raise funds and plan every level of campaigning. from ships to personnel. in the chandelier given the current level of uncertainty surrounding the event.
It remains to be seen what will happen with the America’s Cup, whether we will have a competition in 2008 or 2009 and if so, what the result will be. The biggest fear however is that Alinghi, BMW Oracle and their lawyers will do what 150 years of history could not and end the America’s Cup.
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