Struggling to keep the lore and intrigue alive

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 22 April, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 22 April, 2007, 12:00am

The America's Cup is the oldest and most prestigious sporting trophy in the world, veiled in complex racing rules and centuries-old competition between the sport's most venerable clubs.


But in modern-day sports elitism breeds commerce, and today the America's Cup is fighting to maintain its lore and intrigue while satisfying sponsors eager to sell their goods to the sport's moneyed fans.


This year's cup tells the story of three nations that are for the first time racing for the Louis Vuitton Cup, the winners of which will challenge America's Cup holders Team Alinghi. South Africa has come to Spain as it celebrates 10 years of democracy, Germany as it re-establishes its national pride, and China, which hopes to match its global sporting presence with its growing economic might.


Emirates Team New Zealand, a government-backed campaign, have come to Europe to reclaim the prize they so spectacularly lost in 2003. The Kiwis are led by skipper Dean Barker, whose skills at the helm are undisputed. This is a nationalistic drive, although a well-funded one.


BMW Oracle, backed by Larry Ellison, is in many ways the antithesis of the Kiwi campaign, with a huge budget and personality overshadowing the team.


Team New Zealand are favourites, both to win and for the story of their return to the top rankings. Many see this as a battle between keeping the America's Cup as a sailing epic or making it another fixture on the international sporting circuit that follows the money, and not the fans.


Louis Vuitton representatives are impressed with the slick hosting by Valencia, which was selected by the Swiss as the host port. But the community support and sailing passion that welcomed the cup in Auckland still causes visitors to gush. And for Louis Vuitton, which created the challenger series in 1983, a pure yachting challenge suits their brand image.


'If you believe that money is the only way to win the cup, then you're wrong,' said Stephane Kandler, who leads France's Areva Challenge.


There is talk of changing the format of the cup, so teams would meet every two years. Critics of such a change say it would cheapen the cup, while others say it would only mean more of a good thing.


'What makes the America's Cup so special is the myth and legend around it, and that won't change,' said Kandler.


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