Dana Johannsen

Dana Johannsen is the NZ Herald’s chief sports reporter

America's Cup: Coutts hints at nationality clause

Russell Coutts has hinted it is likely a nationality clause will be reintroduced for the next America's Cup. Photo / Gilles Martin-Raget.
Russell Coutts has hinted it is likely a nationality clause will be reintroduced for the next America's Cup. Photo / Gilles Martin-Raget.

Russell Coutts has hinted it is likely a nationality clause will be reintroduced for the next America's Cup.

Now the dust has settled on the 34th Cup match in San Francisco this year, discussions are well underway between Oracle Racing and challenger of record Team Australia, representing the Hamilton Island Yacht Club, over what shape the next event will take.

And it appears there is a lot of support for stronger nationality rules in the next event.

The nationality clause was abolished following Team New Zealand's successful Cup defence in 2000, which paved the way for Coutts to link up with Swiss syndicate Alinghi, headed by billionaire Ernesto Bertarelli. The move prompted a huge furore both in New Zealand and in the international sailing community, and since then the nationality debate has remained contentious in the sport.

In this year's event the only stipulation was that the hulls of the boats had to be constructed in the nation of the team's origin, but there was no nationality restriction on sailors involved.

That is why Oracle, which represents San Francisco's Golden Gate Yacht Club and the United States, had just one American - Rome Kirby - in their 11-man crew that pulled off a brilliant come from behind victory over Team New Zealand in September, while Swedish team Artemis had no Swedes in their team.

The trend for teams to take a global approach to talent recruitment has lead to the prevailing recent view that the America's Cup more resembles the Formula One model: more about brand identity and pushing technological boundaries than national identity and a patriotic agenda.

But in an interview with Yachting World magazine, Coutts said there is strong support in the Cup community for a nationality clause.

"Both the Challenger of Record and us would like to see some form of nationality rule for the sailing teams so we're considering options there," said Coutts.

Team New Zealand will be one of the teams pushing for a change, with boss Grant Dalton having long advocated for a nationality clause to be reintroduced to the Cup. But with more New Zealand sailors involved in the 34th event than any other country, the move could put a lot of Kiwi sailors out of jobs depending on the weighting of local v international talent allowed.

Coutts has also reiterated the need to attract more teams to the next event, but doesn't expect a flood of new syndicates signing up.

"In many ways I think we are better to aim at quality rather than quantity. Right now, we have the four teams from AC34 who appear to be active, plus the Australian challenger of record. So it seems likely we can expect a minimum of five high quality teams.

Hopefully that number can be increased. For example, it would be great to have a good team from one of the Asian countries."

- NZ Herald

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