Paul Lewis on sport

Paul Lewis is the Herald on Sunday's Sport Editor

Paul Lewis: Schiller's sense of entitlement stinks

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So Larry Ellison and a group of high-powered businessmen want to turn the America's Cup into a yearly World Series of sailing, with the winner challenging for cash and something else... oh yes, the America's Cup.

There's so much wrong with the way this has been handled that it screams "culture of arrogance" - the phrase most often heard when those who know sailing are trying to explain what has gone wrong in the Oracle Team USA camp.

The way vice-chairman of the 2013 America's Cup advisory committee, Harvey Schiller, outlined it barely disguised the lack of regard for New Zealand - a small country, sure, but one which has staged two America's Cup regattas more successful than this one in San Francisco.

The plan to stage an America's Cup World Series around the world, fought out between 10-20 "franchises", also seems a back-door strategy to wrest control away from New Zealand (if Team New Zealand win the Cup) with money and power.

And this statement was made before Oracle Team USA were soundly defeated in Race 5 of the Cup and then elected to postpone Race 6. Which leads to the question: How do you organise a global yearly series if you can't even organise a team to defend the Cup successfully?

But no one should take Schiller and his colleagues on the advisory committee lightly. They represent, along with Oracle's billionaire backer Ellison, some of the heaviest hitters in American sports and entertainment.

They are also approaching this with some persuasive logic. It is hard to sustain interest in the three- to five-year gaps between America's Cups. There is some sense in a yearly contest which has a direct input into the America's Cup match.

But that is a long way from allowing American big business to control matters. If Emirates Team NZ win the 34th America's Cup, they will have to shape their vision for the Cup and pitch it in a way that attracts challengers.

Challengers are vital but they are hard to find and can be a thorn in the side of the holders, as Team NZ have been for Oracle at times. If Ellison, Schiller and their heavyweight mates offer money and an easy way into a quasi-America's Cup series, it could put pressure on Team NZ's vision.

But there are some things Schiller is saying that chills those who have some regard for the history and tradition of the Cup. Asked what would happen to this plan if New Zealand won the Cup, Schiller said: "I am afraid this is a matter of economics and funding. It remains to be seen but I think the sailing community may come together at some point. It may take a little longer but the fact is it's a weakness that we have only three challengers [at the 34th America's Cup in San Francisco]. Sailing used to be in Tier One of sport and we need to return to that. F1 on the water? Sure."

What is that if not a tacit contention that this little country at the foot of the world may sit outside the saloon when the big boys come to town? He then started talking about how the franchises would be competing for a cash prize.

Even acknowledging that change is inevitable there's an unpleasant odour about the sense of entitlement inherent in all this.

There's also no acknowledgement that little David might be about to take Goliath's cup; no sign of belief that New Zealand might be able to correct the mistakes of ... let's see, who was it again? Oh, yes - Oracle Team USA.

You can bet your bottom dollar if big business gets hold of this, it'll start to smell pretty bad. You'd bet, for instance, that there would be no international jury to slap punishment on people who cheat by making illegal alterations to AC45 45ft catamarans.

Schiller's main claim to fame is he headed the World Championship Wrestling for Ted Turner's broadcast empire - a moneyspinner but a horrendous mix of sport, dumbed-down entertainment and fakery. That and the America's Cup go together like spitting on the vicar's carpet and saying out loud that you fancy his mum.

No, tell you what, Larry and Harvey and co - go get your own cup and start your own regatta. Why do you need the America's Cup?

- NZ Herald

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