Nationality Rules & nationality rules

Remember when? Team Korea (RIP) photo by Gilles Martin-Raget/America’s Cup

By Kimball Livingston Posted April 8, 2014

In the quiet before the storm—counting down to the release of a Protocol for America’s Cup 35—I note that the chatter-flurry about a nationality requirement has died away in the expectation that “something” will be done, even at the risk of consigning a raft of Kiwi pros to the unemployment line. The “we’re a highly international team” bit has not played as well as hoped, and yes, the American team was thin on yanks. In one facet of the big picture, however, a nationality requirement is kinda too bad. Oman is not joining the AC game, but when you look at the strength of that tiny country’s Oman Sail program, and how it is growing grassroots from the seeds of imported talent, there’s a case to be made for international pollination. If that hasn’t worked yet in the America’s Cup, it’s probably because the bar is set so high for Step One. This is, after all, the America’s Cup. Embracing a turnaround in my own thinking, I believe I see clearly now . . .

Technical innovation. National pride. Those are the overriding themes in America’s Cup, all 162 years of it, especially at the birth of it. Short of a complete overhaul, attempted but not achieved in 2013, that’s how it must be.

In 1851, England hosted the Great Exposition, the first-ever world’s fair, showcasing the wonders of technology in the Victorian age. The Yankee schooner that represented its nation, winning the 100 Pounds Cup, embodied shockingly superior technology in the great age of sail. Britain ruled an empire because Britannia ruled the waves, but those cheeky ex-colonials took them on, and prevailed.

And they had the gall to name that boat, America.

By any other name, it would have been noted, but not historic.

Mama’s Mink Cup 35 in 2017? I don’t think so. Thus began a long run and . . .

BoxingkangarooThe first foreign boat to take away the America’s trophy— after 132 years— was named Australia. To be perfectly correct, the wing-keeled wonder was named Australia II, but it was the ‘Australia’ part that ignited the biggest national celebration in OZ since VJ Day ended World War II. And much later, in 1995 and again in 2013, it was Team NEW ZEALAND that had a nation on the edge of its collective seat.

Draw a comparison to Olympic competition, national pride and audience engagement, and the arguments for a nationality requirement in America’s Cup 35 are a no-brainer.

Except, it’s going to take brains and bets to get it right, or right-enough, in a shrinking, interconnected world with blurred borders and a yearning on the part of so many to get Asia into the game. Asia’s money, whatever.

Frankly, I don’t need a nationality requirement. It means little to my Cup addiction to have, as it seems we soon may, some sort of percentage requirement for crew composition. But, apparently, it’s lesson #1 in America’s Cup Marketing 101. Not to forget that there were those who fustigated mightily each time Charlie Barr was allowed to (successfully) skipper a defender. The same Scottish-born former fisherman Charlie Barr who arrived on the scene as skipper of 1887 Cup challenger Thistle, only to be soundly whipped by the American defender, Volunteer, then go on to take US citizenship and—upon winning the trust of Nathaniel Herreshoff—skipper American defenders in 1899, 1901 and 1903.

But is anybody leaning on our resident Aussie, Jimmy Spithill, to adopt the country where he now lives (in San Diego) with wife and family?

And all those Scandinavian deckhands heaving lines before the invention of winches . . .

Naw, not really part of the conversation.

Whether or not Aussie designer Ben Lexcen really dreamed up the winged keel for Australia II? Or was it that pesky Dutchman, Peter van Oossanen? There’s a question still good in certain circles for a three-beers argument.

Nationality rules, you see.

Suns New Jerseys