Sailing: TV deal spikes young guns

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THE NEEDS of the many held sway over the few here this week, as America's Cup politicking continued under full sail.

The Young America syndicate finally succumbed to pressure from their fellow challengers on Friday, and pulled the plug on a deal with the Fox Sports Net television company, so sacrificing backing of some $3m.

The announcement, which clears the way for the completion of final formalities with the ESPN network over the US television rights to cover the whole event - worth around $4m to the challengers - has satisfied Young America's irate opponents but has done nothing to underpin the syndicate itself, which represents the New York Yacht Club, the Challenger of Record, and is said to be in desperate financial straits. There is now the serious prospect of the Challenger of Record not being represented.

But there are four other American syndicates all hoping to restore American pride. Mr America's Cup, Dennis Conner, is back and so too is the Whitbread winner Paul Cayard who will build two boats and must be the favourite to prevail in the challenger series. John Kolius and Dawn Riley, head the other US challenges. Elsewhere, France is looking like an interesting underdog with Bertrand Pace, a former world match racing champion, in charge. Italy's Prada have full backing in place, Japan are likely to run two boats under Peter Gilmour, and Syd Fischer is again putting together an Australian challenge.

Which leaves Britain as the eternal question mark. Spirit of Britain has been in and out of America's Cup 2000 on a mon-otonously regular basis and three weeks ago British participation looked almost certain.

However, promised funds have failed to materialise, leaving the director of sailing Lawrie Smith pessimistic. The project director Angus Melrose has been in Auckland but hard cash is proving elusive. It is still physically possible to build a boat and get to the starting line on 18 October but as each day goes by the opportunities to do British sailing justice are diminishing.