NATIONALITY: The history of this America’s Cup clause

Published on April 28th, 2013

By John Longley – Grinder on Australia II
The plea for a return to nationality in the America’s Cup is a recurring thread on Scuttlebutt, and it is always interesting to restate why we are where we are on this matter.

Most America’s Cup fans would know that prior to the Second World War, the yachts were mainly crewed by professionals and that nationality was not an issue, particularly as many of the crews were British and Scandinavian fisherman. Arguably the first Corinthian crew was that of Tommy Sopwith’s Endeavour in the 1934 Match, which was mainly crewed by amateurs, after his professional crew struck for more money.

With the post war revival of the competition, it seemed that nationality came into being more by default than by any demand from the New York Yacht Club (NYYC) as Defender. Why would anyone want to sail for any other country than your own? No one, or very few, were being paid, and the prime motivation was to represent your country.

It was Australian Alan Bond who broke the mould in the 1977 Match. In the 1970’s, the Congressional Cup was the premier Match Racing event in the world. In fact, Match Racing was almost totally a U.S. discipline with most of the top Match Racers being American.

As a lead up to the first Bond challenge in 1974, a crew was sent to the Congressional Cup with 1972 Dragon Olympic gold medallist John Cuneo at the helm. We came last, and I still have my copy of “Race Your Boat Right” by Arthur Knapp Jr, which was awarded with great pomp by Arthur to those who did so, to prove it.

We did not do much better in 1977 with Noel Robins at the helm, although as I have only one copy of Arhur’s book, I guess we did not come last. So Alan pondered what to do.

“Why don’t we sign up an American Match Racer,” mused Alan? “There are no rules to say we can’t.”

Hence one Andy Rose came onboard our team. Andy was one of the new hotshots in the Match Racing world and, and as he was a Californian, he wasn’t a real American… at least not from the NYYC’s point of view anyway (just joking).

Suddenly we could play the game, and although Courageous still beat us 4-0, it was a slight lack of upwind speed that was our problem, and not our lack of Match Racing skill.

The NYYC did not approve of this at all, and closed the loophole by writing an interpretation to the Deed Of Gift that demanded that all crews be nationals of the country of the challenging yacht club.

And so it was until the 2003 Match when the Kiwis changed the Deed to remove the Nationality clause. It may have been that the Kiwis wanted to maximise the number of Challengers for commercial reasons, and with a nationality rule the Swiss were not going to be able compete, but I believe the main drive for relaxing the rules came from a shift from Corinthian sailor to professional.

Sailors were starting to make a living out of sailing in the America’s Cup, and if they were to be able to get the best deal from their prospective employer, they needed to be able to offer their wares on an open market.

Today there are Australians sailing on all of the current America’s Cup syndicates although there hasn’t been an Australian Challenger since 1995. The Kiwis, Spaniards and Brits are everywhere as well. If it had not been so, I doubt there would have ever been a Swiss, or Japanese Challenge, and the Chinese would most likely never be back.

I too yearn for the days of National-based Challenges. But to wind the clock back to the 12 metre era is both impractical and arguably not in the best interests of the future of the Event, as it will exclude countries who do not have home grown experience in this strangest of competitions.

However, I do think that partial solutions should be explored.

For example, maybe a certain percentage of the crew could be required to be Nationals. The Australian Basketball professional league has such a system in that it only allows two non-nationals per team. I can see no reason why this would not be viable. You can, for example, always train up trimmers, although I acknowledge it would be hard to train grinders as they are simply born with their incredible skills.

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