Jimmy Spithill: It’s About Sport, Not Nationalities

Published on November 10th, 2015

America’s Cup defender Oracle Team USA may be representing an American club, but through the three America’s Cup World Series events in 2015, there has yet to be a true blue American among her sailing crew. Curious about the nationality directive within the team, Scuttlebutt editor Craig Leweck spoke with Australian skipper Jimmy Spithill on the subject…

Is there any directive from team management for there to be any certain nationality on the team?

We don’t pick people based on their nationality. We don’t pick people based on what they look like, the country on their passport, or color of their skin. We pick people based on one thing, and that is their attitude, their work ethic, how much of a team player they are, and talent.

In my experience in sport as a kid growing up, is that life isn’t always fair, and there’s plenty of examples out there in the real world about discrimination and people being judged differently because of their background, where they might be born, maybe their upbringing, whatever.

But one thing I learned as a kid was that when you got out on the sporting field, and when you kicked that rugby ball, when that boxing bell sounded, or when the start gun for a race went, none of that stuff mattered. All that stuff went out the window, and what really mattered was who wanted it the most, and who would work the hardest. That, to me, has always been the attraction to sport, in that all the other stuff goes away.

That’s why I love doing it, and that’s why I love watching it and seeing some of these awesome stories about people coming from complete ghettos in the middle of nowhere in different countries and somehow against all odds making it, becoming a star soccer player or NFL player or whatever. But to answer your question, we select people only based on the kind of people they are. We love having great people in our team.

In terms of selecting crew, the sailing team through the three events this year were mostly Australian. Since both you and your sailing team manager, Tom Slingsby, are Australian, does that influence crew selection?

We’re going to be doing rotations throughout the entire 2015-16 World Series. The fact is because of being so focused on our boat development program, and in how there’s been very, very little training time, plus in how there’s weight limits to these boats, we wanted to give a couple of new guys a trial. But you can’t do everything at once. You can’t do everything at three regattas. But we think we’ve got the people in the team to go out there and win the World Series events, and that’s what we’re trying to do.

We’ve got a competitive group, and we’ll be rotating our guys throughout the season to try and get better experience. There’s only five that can go racing, and from a racing point of view, as I’m sure you’re aware, if you stick to one team the entire season, that team would probably get the better results long-term over the season. But for us, we have two goals, we obviously want to compete in the World Series, but we also have to do some rotation, and that’s exactly what we’re going to do going forward. So that’s really how we approach it.

On that point, we think that we can, with the rotation, although it’s not ideal, we think that we should be able to win with a different crew as we mix it up and change it around during the season. Also, it’s a bit of a balance, because we want guys out there racing, as we think that benefits our development program.

Do you have any perspective on why there aren’t more US sailors involved in either your team, or any team?

I don’t know. I’ve got no idea. I just don’t look at the people in our team and think about where they’re from. I look at them and I get to know them from the people they are. It doesn’t matter whether they’re from America, from New Zealand, from the UK, etc. I don’t judge people based on their nationality. I judge them on what sort of a person they are, whether their skills fit out needs, what sort of an attitude they have. That’s how we approach– that’s how I’ve always approached sporting teams.

Wouldn’t it make sense that, given how your core people are not Americans, that you are then less familiar with Americans, and that might impact the people you select to be on sailing team?

Not true, not true, because sailing is a sport where you get to know a lot of people. The fact is, it is international. I came up through the match racing circuit, and we’d be racing all sorts of people from all different nationalities, and you get to know them. Same goes for when you work on other professional sailing projects. Some of our guys like Tom Slingsby and Andrew Campbell went through the Olympic program, so they know a lot of the Olympic guys.

What I find anywhere in the sailing world is that you do get to mix with all sorts of people from different disciplines in the sport, and you get to see who some of the good guys are, and sometimes you get to work with them before teaming up in an America’s Cup campaign.

Then maybe there aren’t as many Americans competing in the sport at the highest level as other nationalities. Do you think that’s it?

I’m not sure, and that’s not what I’m saying. Let me be crystal clear here. My experience is, we’ve got some great Americans in our team, but we’ve got some great Australians and New Zealanders, great guys from all around the world, it goes on and on. But I don’t sit around spending my time trying to figure out where everyone’s from. It’s more about the sport for us.

NOTE: The America’s Cup protocol state that at least one crew must be a national of the team’s club during the America’s Cup World Series and America’s Cup competition. In 2015, the defender met this requirement through dual passports.

Oracle Team USA – America’s Cup World Series – 2015 event crew list
PORTSMOUTH: Jimmy Spithill (AUS), skipper/helmsman; Tom Slingsby (AUS/USA), tactician; Kyle Langford (AUS) wing trimmer; Kinley Fowler (AUS/NZL/IRL), trimmer; Louis Sinclair (ANT/USA/NZL), bow

GOTHENBERG: Jimmy Spithill (AUS) skipper/helmsman; Tom Slingsby (AUS/USA), tactician; Kyle Langford (AUS), wing trimmer; Joey Newton (AUS), trimmer; Louis Sinclair (ANT/USA/NZL), bow.

BERMUDA: Jimmy Spithill (AUS) skipper/helmsman; Tom Slingsby (AUS/USA), tactician; Kyle Langford (AUS), wing trimmer; Joey Newton (AUS), trimmer; Louis Sinclair (ANT/USA/NZL), bow.

For a full list of the Oracle Team USA crew … click here.


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