Professional sailing threatens Olympic spotlight

Published on October 15th, 2014

The president of Yachting Australia has revealed the America’s Cup is the biggest challenge to the ongoing success of Australia’s Olympic sailing program.

The glitzy international match race competition, won last year by Oracle Team USA skippered by Australian James Spithill, has increasingly become a lure to the local sailors drawn to the big money on offer. So much so that Yachting Australia boss Matt Allen and his team took the decision to lobby for a change in the great race’s protocol.

“Quite honestly the America’s Cup is our biggest challenge in the sport,” Allen told The Australian. “If you’re swimming for Australia that’s the pinnacle if you’re in the Olympics. For sailing there is actually another financial level and that’s the America’s Cup.

“So our challenge is to make sure that we don’t lose our best athletes to the America’s Cup.”

While the Olympic competition is decided athlete vs athlete using identical equipment, the battle for the Auld Mug is often settled by big cheque books and the designers’ drawing board. Following the London Games, Australia’s gold medallists were all signed by America’s Cup teams.

Tom Slingsby (Laser) became a crucial part of the victorious Oracle team, Nathan Outteridge and Iain Jensen (49er) signed up with Swedish challenger Artemis Racing and Mat Belcher (470) was asked to skipper the ultimately withdrawn Team Australia bid backed by billionaire Bob Oatley and son Sandy.

Allen, alongside the Oatleys, who was originally the America’s Cup Challenger of Record, moved to lock in a more Olympic-friendly timeframe for the America’s Cup regatta.

“We got involved very early on when the America’s Cup was retained by Oracle to say to them, ‘Look with the protocol for the next America’s Cup can you make sure that the main America’s Cup boats can’t be sailed until after the Olympics’,” he said. “And now the main America’s Cup boats can’t be sailed until after the Olympics, so you’ve got the 2016 Games and the boats can’t be sailed until January 2017.

“The goal was to try and give that delineation that works for our Olympic teams but is better for the America’s Cup as well (as all crew are available) and better for the sailors, so a win by all parties.”

Allen said the Oatleys made the right choice withdrawing Team Australia.

“The America’s Cup was always something for incredibly deep pockets and enormous resolve. I think that they did make the right decision.”

Source: The Australian

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