Alinghi’s victory in Auckland in 2003 brought the America’s Cup competition to Europe for the first time and has opened participation in the Cup up even further. Changes to the Rules mean that, within teams, many nationalities are represented. The Swedish Victory Challenge for example, can count 21 countries on its team of over 120 people. At Alinghi, the extended sailing team (personnel listed as sailors, although not always on the racing crew) includes 12 nationalities.

For the last America’s Cup, Alinghi already relied on team members from around the world. In the last edition of the Cup such a cosmopolitan team was an expensive proposition since, under the Rules at the time, all team members had to be ‘resident’ in Switzerland. After their win, in the new Protocol, the Swiss relaxed the nationality rules, opening the 32nd America’s Cup to the world; crew members would no longer by obliged to be resident in the country of the team. The result is an international edition of the America’s Cup unlike any other. New countries have challenged for the first time – South Africa, Germany, China – which would have found it difficult, if not impossible, under tighter nationality rules. The current arrangement essentially allows a transfer of expertise to new countries that in the past would have been prohibitively expensive. Suddenly, it doesn’t matter where you’re from, and the teams boast crew members from places as diverse as Senegal, Zimbabwe, Singapore, Croatia and the Czech Republic.

For traditionalists, the relaxing of the nationality rules is a cause for consternation.

The teams continue to represent a Yacht Club though and, through this, a country. Teams like Emirates Team New Zealand, Mascalzone Latino – Capitalia Team, Shosholoza and Desafío Español have extended sailing teams, where more than two-thirds of the sailors are nationals of the country their Yacht Club is from. On board other teams, it can be difficult to find citizens of that country for which the team is supposedly racing. For example, there are few Swiss sailors on the Alinghi race crew, Americans on BMW ORACLE Racing or Chinese sailors aboard the China Team race boat.

Does this mean trouble for an event founded on a Deed of Gift that called for the creation of the America’s Cup as “a perpetual Challenge Cup for friendly competition between foreign countries”? If the Alinghi experience is anything to go by, it seems not. The team returned to a rapturous reception in Geneva following its historic victory in Auckland. It seems the teams and Yacht Clubs continue to represent their countries like a large football club in Europe, with its international mix of stars, is cheered on by its country in the Champions League or UEFA Cup. 

Waning American influence

In reality, the 32nd America’s Cup is a continuation of a trend that has been developing in recent editions of the event. The United States, for example, after dominating the Cup for the first 132-years, has had a declining influence on the America’s Cup since first losing it in 1983. The 2000 America’s Cup featured five American challengers, but marked the first time an American Yacht Club wasn’t represented in the final Match.
By 2003.there were just three American flagged teams, and again, none advanced to the Match. Today, BMW ORACLE Racing is the lone US entry and the number of Americans spread across the other teams is relatively small. There are 31 US sailors listed on extended sailing teams, including just three on BMW ORACLE Racing.

On the other hand, other nations and nationalities are thriving. The Chinese team joins previous entries from Japan in representing Asia (albeit with few Asian sailors yet) and sailors and teams from all across Europe are present in Valencia. Three Italian teams join challenges from France, Spain, Sweden and the Swiss Defender. There are 14 Danish sailors spread across the teams, including six afterguard members. French sailors feature in the afterguards of four teams.

The most represented nation at the America’s Cup is by far New Zealand.

Kiwi sailors, collected from all the teams could form nearly four race crews. With New Zealand winning the Cup in 1995 and staging two defences (successful in 2000 and unsuccessful in 2003), it is natural that New Zealand expertise is sought after and, with just one New Zealand team to sail for at the past three America’s Cups, the opportunity to sail for the ‘home’ country is limited. It isn’t surprising that nearly every team has a Kiwi.

With over three-quarters of its sailing team from New Zealand, would it be possible for Emirates Team New Zealand, should it win the America’s Cup, to write a Protocol with more restrictive nationality rules? Looking across the teams, where there are over 60 Kiwis on the extended sailing teams, it might appear to be to their advantage to do so, but in an age of globalisation, such a Rule could certainly be seen as swimming against the current. In the past, the tighter nationality Rule didn’t restrict who teams employed; it just made them pay more to circumvent the rule.

Certainly, there are more countries than New Zealand with sailors gaining experience at this America’s Cup. Italy, with 59 sailors, France (42), Spain (31), the United States (31), Australia (23), might also benefit. And with nearly 30 countries represented on the extended sailing crews of the 12 teams, there will be no shortage of potential challenging nations. The most ‘national’ extended sailing teams are Emirates Team New Zealand (76%), Mascalzone Latino-Capitalia Team (73%), Shosholoza (69%) and Desafío Español 2007 (68%).

28 nations are represented on extended sailing teams at the 32nd America’s Cup