The real deal
July 7, 2007, 4:22 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

After an amazing journey of 1,000kms west from Valencia via Madrid and an overnight in the magnificent 14th century castle parador hotel in Caceres there is a complete change of mood in Cascais, Portugal at the ISAF world championships of sailing. All 11 Olympic classes are holding their world championships concurrently over 10 days in a venue which not only bid to stage the recently-completed America’s Cup but which is still spitting tacks about the way in which it feels it was treated when the nod went to Valencia.

There are 1,390 competitors from 76 countries here, so, if you really want to know where your country stands in the pecking order of international sailing then this is it. Doubtless there is still a lot of commerical wheeling and dealing in the background and there will be all sorts of squabbles over who has the right to broadcast what and to whom. Sailing still thinks it has major appeal even on a weekend when the Wimbledon titles are being settled and the Formula 1 circus moves to Silverstone. More evangelism, please. 

 Still, where there is a buck to be made opinions are often sold cheaply, but the sailing retains its integrity and the cream always rises to the top. With Robert Scheidt more than challenging the legend-in-his-own-lifetime Torben Grael for the Brazilian slot in the Star class there may also be some validity to the argument that having what should be a breezy venue to decide 75 per cent.of the national qualification places for a Qingdao where the breeze could not often blow the skin off a rice pudding.

There was considerable apprehension when the first of these jamborees was staged near Cadiz and lots of financial support had to be found. Now the national delegations are lobbying ISAF for the right to stage the 2011 event, including one led by Alinghi coach and former America’s Cup skipper Peter Gilmour. But that would be Perth, up the river, not Fremantle, where the breeze and waves would be a major test for the dinghy bretheren.

One problem, apart from the unreliable communications structure and the erratic results service, is that the racing can continue until 21.00 which, for an event that wants to say it wishes to communicate with the world in a big way, is far better for the Americas or even the breakfast shows in the far East and Australasia.

Still it is a breath of fresh air after the fetid atmosphere in Valencia which became even worse when the protocol for the next event was unveiled. Control of the competitors and supposedly independent bodies like the race committee, jury and race officer were bad enough. The emasculation of challenger independence was also taken a painful stage further and the any semblance of fair competition brutally destroyed.

At the same time how must the poor German team feel about having recently applied for a sail number for a new boat without being told that a new design was round the corner? Well, perhaps not too bad as much of the qualification racing will be in the old version five boats we saw this time. Nevertheless, such sneaky secretiveness, while tank testing the new design themselves, hardly qualifies Alinghi for a sportsmanship award; and it means the challengers have to run two campaigns at once, one in the old boat while working up a second in the new design.

One man who is happy – and is sailing a Star for his home country, Argentina, in Cascais – is ABN Amro and BMW Oracle designer Juan Kouyoumdjian. He expects the new boat to be about 15 or 16 tonnes, as opposed to the 24 of the shorter 80-footer, knew that the tank testing in Canada was underway, and can look forward to being in demand again. So, at least the design race element of the America’s Cup continues and naturally he is happy about that. As for the rest, it is time someone found a way of reining in what the Italians are describing as the “military dictatorship” of Alinhgi and its wholly-owned subsidiary, America’s Cup Management. But don’t look to the world governing body. It cannot control its own sport from marauders.

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