Sailing: Britain's credibility sinking without trace: Rudderless challenge leaves America's Cup founders adrift in race for glittering prize. Stuart Alexander reports

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The Independent Online
DELAY and indecision are damaging Britain's hopes of a credible challenge for the 1995 America's Cup, the most glamorous prize in sailing which combines the cold-blooded skill of hi- tech design with the passion to win.

That there should be any doubt about Britain being in San Diego in 1995, again, is bad enough. British companies are at the forefront of aerospace technology, which has much in common with advanced boat design. Yet the country provides the best tank-testing, wind-tunnel facilites and equipment - to the opposition. Britain builds boats well and sails them well, although already some of the best experts are being lost to overseas syndicates.

Britain does have a challenge, but the present, self-appointed leaders are still pussyfooting about with 18 months to go. Behind the challenge, which was set up at the beginning of the year under the banner of the Crusade Yacht Club, is Richard Matthews, an east-coast boatbuilder who has turned largely to Harold Cudmore and Eddie Warden Owen for advice.

There is, however, a group of supporting businessmen, but they have all held off making any major appeal for finance until later this year. The working title of the yet-to-be-built boat is British Lion, but they will be hoping a sponsor will come up with enough to buy a new name.

Soon. The America's Cup show is firmly back on course after the legal battles of 1988. The world audience is growing after huge television successes last year in France, Italy and Japan, and it is again one of the major competitions in sport.

That Britain could put up a good show is beyond question, that the event is a powerful platform for marketing and sponsorship is as well, but if a meaningful challenge is to be mounted in the short time left some high-powered management is urgently needed.

In Cowes tomorrow, 12 of the 13 challengers meet to push the organisation further forward. They will be there not just because it is convenient for other competitions taking place nearby, like the Admiral's Cup. The rest of the sailing world is desperately keen for a British presence in San Diego in 1995, and Cowes is where the whole conflict started in 1851.

But the host for the big party in Cowes will not be the British syndicate, nor a British commercial concern, nor even the Royal Yacht Squadron. It is, on Bastille Day, the French, a nation determined to take the lead in world yacht racing. In fact, it will be the Louis Vuitton luggage company that will be sending out the invitations. Louis Vuitton will also announce its renewed sponsorship of the Challenger series, a little matter of perhaps dollars 10m ( pounds 6.7m).

And what was Britain's response to the challengers' gesture of encouragement? The British group ran a dinner in London last night at which, instead of a fellow challenger to drum up more enthusiasm, the principal speaker was Bill Koch, the billionaire who defended the cup successfully for the United States last year.

Also present at the pounds 60-a-head bash were the former British syndicate chiefs, Tony Boyden (1980) and Peter de Savary (1983), though the new group, the British Challenge for the America's Cup, have made it clear that they see no central role for de Savary.

Strike up the band? No, low-key caution is the watchword and those seeking information are being almost rudely deflected. However, winning worldwide is about playing on the big board. To raise pounds 6m to put the campaign together - and even that sounds a little thin - management with real vision is essential. People who can see the unique opportunities.

People who can draw together the strings of financial management, technical research, political manoeuvering, merchandising and marketing. People who know the most important proposition is a return, though not necessarily always financial, on the marketing investment made.

If football and cycling-mad Italians can be riveted to their television screens by 10-mile-an-hour yacht races and then elevate their American skipper, Paul Cayard, to the status of superstar even when he loses, then the British ought to be able to whip up some enthusiasm. After all, we made the Cup]

AMERICA'S CUP CHALLENGERS: Australian Yacht Club (Aus) Syd Fischer (skipper); Southern Cross Yacht Club (Aus) John Bertrand; Yacht Club d'Antibes (Fr) Marc Bouet; Yacht Club de France (Fr) Marc Pajot; Yacht Club de Sete (Fr) Marc Pajot; Crusade Yacht Club (GB) Not decided; Europa Yacht Club (It) Paul Cayard; Nippon Yacht Club (Japan) John Cutler; Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron (NZ) Russell Coutts; Tutukaka Yacht Club (NZ) Chris Dickson; St Petersburg Yacht Club (Rus) Vladimir Kulbida; Royal Cape Yacht Club (SA) Geoff Meek; Monte Real Club de Yates de Bayona (Sp) Pedro Campos; Real Club Nautico de Valencia (Sp) Antonio Gorestegui.

AMERICA'S CUP CHALLENGERS: Australian Yacht Club (Aus) Skipper: Syd Fischer. Southern Cross Yacht Club (Aus) John Bertrand. Yacht Club d'Antibes (Fr) Marc Bouet. Yacht Club de France (Fr) Marc Pajot. Yacht Club de Sete (Fr) Marc Pajot. Crusade Yacht Club (GB) Not decided. Europa Yacht Club (It); Paul Cayard. Nippon Yacht Club (Japan) John Cutler. Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron (NZ) Russell Coutts). Tutukaka Yacht Club (NZ) Chris Dickson. St Petersburg Yacht Club (Rus) Vladimir Kulbida. Royal Cape Yacht Club (SA) Geoff Meek. Monte Real Club de Yates de Bayona (Sp). Pedro Campos. Real Club Nautico de Valencia (Sp) Antonio Gorestegui.

May 1971: A storm erupts when Saint-Etienne accuse Marseille of illegal approaches to French internationals Georges Carnus and Bernard Bosquier. Saint-Etienne president Roger Rocher banishes the pair and watches helplessly as Marseille pip his team to the League title.

December 1977: The Paris-Saint- Germain 'Double Ticket' scam. Club sanctioned sale of match tickets on black market and used cash to boost signing-on fees. Chairman Daniel Hechter banned for life.

November 1982. Saint-Etienne 'Caisse Noire'. A slush fund is discovered which was used to make under-the-counter payments to players. Chairman Rocher imprisoned for fraud. Nine former players - including Michel Platini - forced to pay substantial sums of unpaid tax.

November 1990: Bordeaux president Claude Bez reveals Parisian call girls were put on the club's payroll to take care of match officials after European games.

January 1991: Allegations made that Marseille attempted to fix matches with Caen, Brest, Saint-Etienne and Bordeaux. Charges fail to stick. But president Bernard Tapie suspended for 12 months for 'damaging sporting morale and insulting referees'. Marseille players threatened to strike.

February 1991: Bordeaux pounds 30m in the red. Claude Bez imprisoned for fraud.

June 1991: Bordeaux, Brest and Nice relegated to the Second Division because of excessive debts.