Maintaining the Integrity of the Game

Published on May 10th, 2016

We have a saying at Scuttlebutt World Headquarters that bad sailing conditions makes for good spectating. Watching sailors suffer through random acts of nature, losing positions that seemed in control, is fun. Might sound harsh, but let’s face it, parades are cool on holidays but it is the unpredictability of sport that draws our attention.

The problem with this premise is that bad sailing conditions should not be part of championship competition. As much as we want to say that “it’s the same for everybody”, it’s not. This was on display when the America’s Cup Event Authority brought its World Series circuit to New York and held the races in a venue where races of consequence are never held.

Ben Ainslie, skipper of British challenger Land Rover Bar, said all the right things before the races on May 7-8. He wanted to be supportive, knowing that a major media market like NYC had value. However, after two days of screwball racing, he is now speaking a bit more from the heart. Here is an excerpt from his report in The Telegraph

As competitors we have a problem. We have to accept the trade-off between maintaining the integrity of the racing and helping to promote our sport in front of new audiences. I find myself in a tricky spot on this debate. On the one hand, as a team principal responsible for raising money to fund our campaign, I understand greatly the commercial realities here and the fact that the America’s Cup with its immense history does need to modernise and attract a new generation of fans.

On the other, wearing my sailor’s cap, I have to say that Sunday’s racing was about as frustrating as it gets. It is one thing if you are exhibition racing but these World Series races matter, the points go towards the America’s Cup proper in Bermuda next summer and, as we saw from Oracle’s 9-8 win last time out, every single point counts.

There is such potential in the America’s Cup, racing these incredible foiling multihulls, which are as much of a thrill to sail as they are to witness screaming towards you at 50mph. We have a new generation of sailors coming through, guys such as Giles Scott and Pete Burling, the New Zealand helmsman, who are great athletes and a real credit to the sport. We are so close to giving these talented and skilful sailors a format which is rewarding from a competitive view point but also commercially viable.

What we still need to do is focus on finding the courses that can also better guarantee the conditions which we need to race.

Sailing will always be governed by Mother Nature but we can, and should, be much more proactive in going to venues, or particular race areas at venues, where we know at certain times of the year we are guaranteed the best conditions for racing.

Again, there are commercial realities to funding the costs of hosting these World Series events but at the very least we need to try to find ways around this to make the events make sense financially but also make sense from a sailing standpoint.

Ultimately, for this sport to grow we need to guarantee the integrity of the racing, not just for the sailors but also for the fans, who are more attuned to this issue than some may think.

Here’s a sample of the racing:

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