Sailing: Marseilles takes America's Cup to new era

Click to follow
The Independent Online

The French have a proud history of falling flat on their faces; the British, except for one glimmer of hope in the 1930s, have done little more than splutter; the Aussies and the Kiwis succeeded where the old country failed; and then along came the Swiss to win one of sport's oldest trophies, the America's Cup, and promise a shiny new era.

The French have a proud history of falling flat on their faces; the British, except for one glimmer of hope in the 1930s, have done little more than splutter; the Aussies and the Kiwis succeeded where the old country failed; and then along came the Swiss to win one of sport's oldest trophies, the America's Cup, and promise a shiny new era.

It starts today, in Europe for the first time, with a warm-up regatta in Marseilles. As the British are back on tenterhooks over sponsorship talks, knowing that backer Peter Harrison is close to ripping up the chequebook, the trademark of the cup - tradition - is being turned on its head.

The people of Marseilles, who usually crowd the bars round the Vieux Port to talk of nothing but their frustratingly beloved Olympique football team, are being invited to peer at what the organisers want to be the equivalent of a Formula One pit area, complete with giant TV screens. They will also be able to watch the racing from the shore.

Two of the six teams taking part are from France, one the cash-strapped establishment challenger from the last two cups, Le Defi, the other the upstart K-Challenge, which, unlike its compatriot, has been accepted as a formal challenger for the shoot-out for the real thing off Valencia in 2007.

The other four are the most lavishly backed of the challengers, Larry Ellison's San Francisco-based BMW-Oracle; the first-ever team from South Africa, Shosho-lozo; the 2003 losers, Team New Zealand, now in Emirates Airlines colours; and the holders, Alinghi, from Geneva.

The defenders used to keep their own counsel while trying to make life as difficult as possible for the challengers. Exit tradition. They have fallen out terminally with skipper Russell Coutts.

The regatta, named Act One, in Marseilles will be followed by Acts Two and Three in Valencia next month. All are part of a plan to keep the America's Cup show rolling, instead of having to rekindle public interest every four years. Whether that public will do anything other than yawn has yet to be seen.

Who wins or loses has no bearing on the cup, and in 2007 the old format of the defender being given automatic right to a place in the final will apply, while all the rest fight it out to be sole challenger. Nothing new there, then, but the travelling circus, while offering lots more exposure to sponsors, flies in the face of previously expressed intentions of curbing the huge budgets which the teams need to stay in the game.

Far from being reduced, some now top $100m (£56m), leaving the smaller players to rely on ingenuity to win. The Brits and especially the Kiwis love that underdog role.

Comments