Image: Americascup.com

America’s Cup Shake-Up Good News For Australia’s Return To International Sailing

While it's not confirmed yet, Australia has its greatest opportunity in years to return to the America's Cup.

The America’s Cup, the oldest competition in all international sport, will return for the 37th edition following the acceptance of a “friendly” challenge from the British Royal Yacht Squadron Racing Ltd by Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron, the defending champion.

Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron won the 36th America’s Cup, after Team Emirates New Zealand successfully beat the challenger Luna Rossa in March 2021.

However, the process of organising the next edition of the historic sporting event isn’t progressing (and won’t progress) as normal. When a challenger formally submits a challenge to the defending team, the document should put forward proposed dates of the when the next match will take place, as well as giving information about the yachts to be used.

This time round, that hasn’t happened. The venue of the America’s Cup is usually the home country of the defending team, which would mean a return to New Zealand. However, it has been claimed that due to potentially high costs, Emirates Team New Zealand may waive this compulsory measure in favour of hosting the event somewhere else.

The New Zealand team has until the 31st of March 2022 to decide upon a location.

Other changes for the 37th America’s Cup include making it a far more inclusive proposition for other teams to compete, predominantly through the use of various cost-cutting measures. INEOS Britannia CEO and Team Principal Sir Ben Ainslie is quoted as saying, “As Challenger of Record, INEOS Britannia has sought with the Defender, Emirates Team New Zealand, to make the next America’s Cup less expensive and more inclusive.”

“The Protocol this time around will see reduced team operating costs without compromising any of the technical development which the Cup is so famous for. There is an opportunity for change, so for AC37 we will see the first Women’s America’s Cup Regatta and we also welcome back the Youth America’s Cup.”

Indeed, the very same AC75 yacht used for the first time at the 36th America’s Cup, will be used once again the next edition (it’s also been reported it will be used again for the 38th edition). By using the same boat design, it’s believed other teams wishing to enter whom would normally be turned away due to high costs, will be able to buy a used model and make it race-ready.

The AC75 boat introduced a new hydrofoil design that, while is incredibly futuristic, had some purists fuming. So much so, the New York Yacht Club said before the 36th edition of the race, that if they had won, they would ensure the design of the boats would change for future races.

Of course, they didn’t win, and Team Emirates New Zealand has elected to retain the AC75 design.

Yachting World adds, “In a nod to trying to get new teams signed up via this route – which would likely prove cheaper than starting from scratch – existing teams are not permitted to sail their AC75s’ before the 17th September 2022, however new Challengers entering AC37 that have purchased a second hand AC75 are permitted to sail their AC75 for 20 days from 17th June 2022.”

The number of sailors permitted onboard the yachts during races has been reduced from 11 to 8, and all 8 must now either be a passport holder of the country they compete for, or to have been present in the country for two of the previous three years prior to 18 March 2021.

Previously, only 20% of the race crew needed to be from the country they were competing for.

Essentially, this could mean we see a return of an Australian racing team. Australia was previously represented by the Hamilton Island Yacht Club, which was confirmed as the Challenger of Record for the 35th America’s Cup. However, eight months after submitting the challenge, the yacht club withdrew its Team Australia squadron, citing new protocols being too hard to prepare for when no dates or venue had been decided upon.

An Australian team was then notably absent from the 36th America’s Cup, with a lack of required funding to be truly competitive being the main culprit.

Australia hasn’t won an America’s Cup since 1983 when Australia II, skippered by John Bertrand, finally put an end to the New York Yacht Club’s 132-year hold over the trophy. Australia II was the representing yacht of the Royal Perth Yacht Club, but the original Challenger of Record for the 1983 year came from the Royal Sydney Yacht Squadron. Their boat, Advance, lost the Louis Vuitton Challenger series of races (the first time Louis Vuitton sponsored the event), allowing the Royal Perth Yacht Club to storm to victory.

While there may not have been an Australian yacht featured in the vast majority of America’s Cup races, there is no shortage of Australian talent, and so the new rules regarding the nationality of sailors could help to see Australia return to the racing waters.

We’re still likely a good couple of years away from seeing the AC75 yachts take to the water – the 37th America’s Cup will likely take place in 2024 – but we’ll be keeping our fingers crossed an Australian contingent can pose a serious challenge.

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