Those against having any nationality rules, for America’s Cup sailors, often argue that globalisation has made them irrelevant. Those in favour of nationality rules talk about the importance of going back to the roots of the America’s Cup – the Deed of Gift.
One can see the merit of both arguments. It is undesirable to set aside a positive result of globalism, which in this 33rd America’s Cup saw French sailors training young Chinese in the art of match racing, which saw black and white South Africans working with other nationalities to build Shosholoza into a competitive challenger. Nevertheless, there is that nagging worry about going against the Deed of Gift; somehow it doesn’t seem quite right.

There’s no need for concern though; for the Deed of Gift makes no mention, whatsoever, about the nationality of the sailors. When John Cox Stevens, James Hamilton, George L. Schuyler and the other members of the yacht America syndicate drew up the first Deed of Gift, in 1852, they clearly stated that the America’s Cup should be “perpetually a challenge cup for friendly competition between foreign countries.” NOT, as is often stated by those who want nationality rules, “friendly competition between nations.” So, those who wish to adhere to the Deed of Gift cannot, with any conscience, bring in a nationality rule for sailors.

What those men wanted was a race between boats representing two yacht clubs from two different countries. Schuyler was to rewrite the Deed of Gift twice, to clarify misinterpretations of the founders’ ideal; such as the addition that stated that boats were to be “constructed in the country” of the yacht club concerned. Never did he say that sailors should be of the nationality of the country whose yacht club had entered.

Indeed, the America’s Cup has a long history of sailors not being from the country of the yacht club. Throughout the Big Class and J-Class eras, from1893 to 1937, most crews were of mixed nationality and, often, the foreigners outnumbered those from the country of the yacht club. Most cup sailors were commercial fishermen, who spent winter fishing and summer hiring themselves out as yachting pros. Agents in the USA, UK and Scandinavia had young fishermen on their books and would offer them out to yacht skippers. If an agent got greedy, a skipper would go to another, so you could have a boat crewed mainly by lads from Baltimore one year and find these had been replaced by Norwegians the next.

No, the Deeds of Gift that Schuyler wrote had no rules about the national identities of crews, the only rule about nationality concerned the nationality of the challenging and defending yacht clubs. That is why British citizen Joseph R. Busk was able to win the America’s Cup, with Mischief. If ever proof were needed of what Schuyler and colleagues intended by the Deed of Gift that was it, for Mischief won whilst Schuyler was still alive. It didn’t matter to him that Busk was British, all that mattered was that Busk too was a member of the New York Yacht Club. The Deed of Gift and America’s Cup history are absolutely clear on the fact that nationality of people does not matter.

So where did this nationality rule come from and when? In 1980, after Alan Bond had retained* an American to be tactician in his Australia challenge and the Defender, the New York Yacht Club, promptly wrote the first ever America’s Cup rule, which required all crew members to have the nationality of the country of the entrant yacht club. Bond said afterwards “The New York Yacht Club wants you to challenge for the America’s Cup, they just don’t want you to win it.” If Emirates Team New Zealand were to win the Cup and Grant Dalton were to carry out his publicly expressed intention to bring back nationality rules, people will say the same about New Zealand and that would be a pity, for I don’t think the vast majority of Kiwis would want to win in any sport, by making rules to suit them and no-one else.

Nationality matters less these days than it did when Schuyler wrote that Deed of Gift. Remember Auckland 2003 and the clang, clang of Swiss cow bells and the blasts of Alpine horns, every time Alinghi won a race, with precious few Swiss on the team? George L. Schuyler didn’t want nationality restrictions on people competing for his Cup, what right does anyone else have to impose them against his wishes?

Foot Note * Andy Rose, the sailor “retained” by Alan Bond, has asked us to point out that he was not a professional. He said “Given the professional nature of today's Cup, I think your use of the word ‘retained’ implies that I was ‘hired’. While I was asked to and did join the crew, and was greatly honored to do so, we were not paid.”

See also The Syndicate

The Deed of Gift