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Scuttlebutt: America's Cup Commentary

Should it be a contest between nations?

Craig Leweck considers the current America's Cup during a busy week of sports watching.

(Thursday, June 22, 2006) It's been a busy sports week. I watched the seventh game of the National Hockey League finals, after not having watched hockey all year. I didn’t know the teams or the players, but liked the thrill of a game when it is all on the line. I watched the sixth game of the National Basketball League finals, after following the playoffs from the beginning. I came to cheer for the Dallas Mavericks, feeling passion for a team that had finally emerged, cheering for players that I came to know, and mourning their final defeat.

Copyright: AFP /
But today I watched the 2006 FIFA World Cup Soccer game between the US and Ghana, and wondered about the on-going America’s Cup debate, where it is questioned whether the America’s Cup would be better if it returned to the day when it was a contest between nations. Could these events be compared, and any conclusions drawn?

The World Cup is absolutely a contest between nations, and that is its main strength. When my kids talked about Portugal versus Mexico, they were truly talking about people from those nations competing against each other. Like the America’s Cup, the World Cup is global, but at the World Cup there are smaller, less privileged countries that are competing evenly on the soccer field with the economically strong nations. Both the World Cup and the America’s Cup have the rarity and intrigue that comes from an event that only occurs every four years, though there are arguably many more people who have kicked a soccer ball than sailed a boat, and therefore more that might relate to the former than the later.

So would the America’s Cup benefit if it returned to the day when it was a contest between nations? Yes and no.

If the America’s Cup was a team-race event in Optimists, then the answer is yes. Optis are sailed worldwide, by strong counties and weak countries, and the competition is close and exciting throughout. Fans would cheer for their countrymen, and the human drama would be easy to watch. Unfortunately, the America’s Cup has barriers that exclude most of the world, as it is expensive and highly technical in both equipment and skill. Which countries would still have a valid chance of succeeding in the America’s Cup if it remained an honest to goodness contest between nations?

photo Gilles Martin-Raget
It is always good for sport when there is parity. The Swiss may never have won the America’s Cup twice if not for the nationality standards of the modern cup. Getting the cup away from the North American and Australasian continents has been good, as evidenced by how the various European cities have embraced the event. But for the America’s Cup to stretch beyond the pages of Scuttlebutt and other sailing media, there needs to be story lines that sports fans, not just sailing fans, can embrace.

As long as the cart remains behind the horse, sailing won’t gain much traction on ESPN’s SportsCenter, so we won’t get to know the sailors as I did Dirk Nowitzki or Jason Terry of the Dallas Mavericks. The event isn’t a contest between nations, so we won’t find reasons to embrace the countrymen of certain entries. The event is not face-paced like other sports, so the simple thrill of action will not draw the viewer. In the end, the America’s Cup is what it is, and that is okay.

Today the US lost to Ghana, and with that ended their hopes in the 2006 FIFA World Cup. However, I will continue to watch the World Cup, as it is a contest between nations, there are small countries competing evenly with large ones, and it is an exciting game. And that is what it is. - Craig Leweck, Scuttlebutt

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