Race without meaning

Can anyone tell me of a more pointless sporting contest than the America’s Cup?

Once upon a time it meant something. I remember it well. Forever and a day America had held the Auld Mug despite fierce competition from first the British, and then the Australians, with others coming and going in between. The contest was so lop-sided that it winning it became an obsession for a succession of Australian moguls – it’s very man a rich man’s sport. Despite years of toil and millions of dollars spent each and every occasion America retained the America’s Cup sailing offshore from Newport, Rhode Island.

It defeated Frank Packer, but then along came Alan Bond. He tried and failed, then he tried again. This time he came with a new boat with a revolutionary winged keel, designed by Ben Lexcen. Having defeated the challengers Australia III trailed Courageous 1-3 in the final, before it rallied. It levelled the series, and then in the decider crossed the line first. Cue widespread jubilation.

As I said, I remember it well. The nautical equivalent of Mt Everest had been conquered. It was front page news all over Australia. Bob Hawke famously proclaimed than any boss who fired some for not coming into work was a mug. The nation celebrated as one.

It had meaning then because it had never happened before. It was a contest between the starchy New York Yacht Club and, latterly, brash Australian entrepreneurs. Half the mystique was that clash of culture and entitlement, and the other half was the one sided nature of the contest till then. Once Australia took the cup from the American’s the mystique virtually disappeared.

It’s gone on since and changed hands several times – it’s hard to keep up and I couldn’t care less besides. They shifted from the graceful 12 metre yachts to rapid catamarans (losing a bit more of the cachet in the process). It’s been raced in parts all over the world. And to make a complete mockery of the contest though the yachts race under the flag of one nation they are crewed by peoples of all nations.

Yesterday the latest iteration of the event was won. This time the Kiwi’s won it, helmed by an Aussie, beating out the American’s who help the cup, also helmed by the same Aussie who won it for them last time.

This is a sport that has lost whatever tenuous connection it had with our world. It’s always been an elite, rich man’s sport, but that was leavened before by tradition, by the history of the contest, and lovely yachts themselves, like thoroughbreds. Back in the day it meant something to win it because it was an Australian team racing an Australian boat crewed by Australians. There was democracy in it.

Now it’s a profession, a mercenary contest limited to only the very wealthiest. Tradition has been lost, and history has become irrelevant. It has no heart.

Good on the Kiwis, good on their Aussie skipper (from Bendigo), and well played – but what in a sporting sense does it mean? I can’t think of a single thing.

 

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