The America’s Cup fails to impress with revolutionary adjustments

Published on July 14th, 2013

By Stuart Alexander, The Independent
(July 14, 2013) – It was supposed to be a wholesale restyling of an event that goes back to a yacht race around the Isle of Wight in 1851. It was going to be, rather insultingly to some, a switch from the Flintstone to the Facebook generation. Instead it has fallen into the age-old traps of overweening ambition and misguided dollops of greed.

The America’s Cup is staggering from a series of baseball bat blows to the head despite being backed by one of the world’s richest men, Larry Ellison, who has masterminded a huge fortune as boss of the Oracle computer software company.

And his team is headed by a man who has won the cup four times, is an Olympic gold medallist, is a talented engineer, has been knighted at home in New Zealand, and is the highest paid sportsman in that rugby-mad country, Russell Coutts.

“What has gone wrong?” Coutts was asked recently by the man who wants to take the cup back to New Zealand, Grant Dalton.

Ellison and Coutts’ intentions, as far as the sport and the event were concerned, were good. They wanted to bring to the people a game that is normally played well away from the public view, so they spent a fortune on developing television systems for race courses close to the shore.

They wanted to speed up a game that had been played at nine to 12 miles an hour. Now it is being played at speeds occasionally in excess of 40 miles an hour. They thought this would be more thrilling for a vastly increased television audience.

But they also wanted to establish a circuit in smaller versions of the new-style boat. It was hugely expensive, failed to attract enough host venues, failed to generate cash, and so became an unsupportable drain on resources.

It also diverted attention from their and the teams’ main objective, which was to stage the biggest and best America’s Cup in Ellison’s home town of San Francisco.

When Ellison won the Cup, which he had twice failed to do in 2003 and 2007, he first ram-raided the Swiss holder Ernesto Bertarelli through the New York courts and then took a major gamble with a monster trimaran which paid off in Valencia in 2010.

The boat and the courts cost hundreds of millions of dollars and then, to the astonishment of all in the room, Ellison said he would like to see a team be able to challenge for $5m.

The America’s Cup Event Authority told San Francisco they would bring enough teams to generate an economic impact of $1.4bn, including creating thousands of jobs.

Three challengers have turned up in San Francisco, spending about $100m each to do so, to race in a new breed of 72-foot wing-powered catamarans that is still not fully developed and tested.

The defender, Oracle, had already flipped its boat last October during training close to Golden Gate Bridge but no-one was seriously hurt. So there was much talk about what to do, but that talk was kept behind the scenes. Until someone died. – Read on

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