Editorial: Cup contest risks losing lustre

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The sight of BMW Oracle slicing through the water off Valencia, looking for all the world like a bird of prey from a Hollywood sci-fi blockbuster, may have gladdened the hearts of yacht-design geeks and carbon fibre manufacturers everywhere, but the punters could have been forgiven for finding the contest something of a yawn.

The 33rd America's Cup challenge defaulted to a one-on-one match, with no challenger series, after another of the long and acrimonious legal battles that now seem an integral part of the contest.

The result was a farce, as the trimaran with its rigid wing sail slaughtered the Swiss catamaran 2-0 in a best-of-three contest - it was respectively 10 and four minutes ahead at the finishing line.

Mercifully, Oracle boss Larry Ellison has promised a multi-challenger format for the next contest, probably in 2013. But as the holder, he faces the challenge of rescuing the regatta from the mire of its recent sorry past.

The Cup contest has always been as much about money as seamanship. From the beginning, the matches were between boats of 20m or more, which only the very wealthy could afford. Now syndicates throw eyewatering sums at design research and development as well as securing the best sailors money can buy.

That is not exceptionable in itself. But the 33rd regatta was a distastefully extreme illustration of how the Cup has become a contest more of expenditure than skill.

The organisation of the 34th must focus on redressing that balance. Nobody is calling for a return to jute ropes, canvas sails and clinker construction. But the least one can hope for is a fair contest between identical craft that the average dinghy dabbler would recognise as boats.

In recent years, millions of fans have followed what was once a minority interest event. It would be a shame if that popularity was frittered away. But if the contest is to be won by bigger spenders rather than better sailors, that is just what will happen.

- Herald on Sunday

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