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Is the America's Cup "Broken"?

A story on the America’s Cup in Issue 2415 made the comment that “until the deed is changed and the event gains a truly independent commissioner, the defender will always be guilty of playing with the advantages they are afforded.” Peter Isler, who held dual roles in the last Cup as both sailor and television commentator, chimes in with his perspective.

(August 21, 2007) These days sailing fans are exasperated over the state of the America's Cup, only a few months after they enjoyed watching some spectacularly close racing in Valencia. But given that our sport possesses something very special - the oldest, continuously contested sporting event in world - it may be worth taking a step back before applying circa 2007 reasoning to "fixing" what is the oldest and therefore by that measure - the most successful sporting event in the world.

Does the Cup really need an independent commissioner now - after "surviving" in three different centuries being governed by a simple piece of paper and the whims and dreams of those that pursued and defended it under the terms of the Deed? Certainly all the other "major" sporting events have one - and guys like David Stern (NBA) and Jacques Rogge (Olympics) face the challenge of balancing the pulls of past traditions with the financial and political realities of the present. In that light, the Cup's limited and non continuous governance may seem anachronistic, out of step with the times. But ask yourself a couple of questions before jumping on the bandwagon to make the oldest trophy in sport just another global sporting event controlled by "expert" politicians and “marketeers”.

Isler was navigator for BMW Oracle Racing during the 32nd Cup
Is the America's Cup "broken"? Does it need fixing? Didn't we just enjoy one of the closest and most exciting America's Cup matches in Cup history? Wasn't Valencia a spectacular venue for the Cup's first ever visit to Europe? By Cup standards wasn't the challenger field was large and competitive... with teams from two new countries joining the quest? Do we really know more about what's good for the Cup than the gentlemen who crafted the Deed of Gift over a century ago?

Granted, there is a tad of uncertainty surrounding the next event, and the focus has shifted, for the time being, off the water. But looking back into Cup history - we see that this sort of stuff is all part of the scene surrounding the oldest trophy in sport. And today's "problems" are "nothing" compared to some of the shoreside strife the Cup has survived. Over a hundred years ago Lord Dunraven allegedly petitioned Parliament to take action against the US over some alleged "funny business" on the race course. There have been lots of shenanigans, on and off the water over the years - but somehow that Cup has not just survived, it has thrived. An ersatz event, unlike any other major international sporting competition - it has endured with no commissioner - through the governance of terms of the Deed of Gift overseeing the quests of sportsmen like Dunraven, Sir Thomas Lipton, Alan Bond, and Dennis Conner.

And thanks to Ernesto and Larry, who played the roles of Defender and Challenger (as mandated by the Deed of Gift), the 2007 Cup was a big success and kept our idiosyncratic event alive and well. Over the years the Cup has changed significantly - keeping step with the times in its own unique way. But before we sailors jump on the bandwagon to turn the Cup into just another international sporting event, let us consider the bigger picture. The Cup has never been just about sailing, and the shoreside wrangling and intrigue has always been a part of the game - with its import ebbing and flowing depending on the players involved. But thanks to the insight of George Schuyler and the co-writers of the Deed of Gift (and its subsequent Interpretive Resolutions), the Cup has survived the ravages of time and is alive and well. The fact that we have such strong opinions and care about it is indeed testament to its health.

So before you vote on your favorite choice for AC commissioner, you might want to just sit back, relax and enjoy the action. The Cup will be back out on the water soon, and until then, there’s plenty of great sailboat racing going on around to enjoy, either as a spectator – or participant! -- Peter Isler

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