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Zhik 2022 Choice of Champions LEADERBOARD

Unprecedented vision. Unparalleled objectives.

by John Curnow, Editor, Sail-World AUS 14 Aug 15:00 PDT
2022 SSL Gold Cup - Team Australia and Team Switzerland © John Curnow

Having been afforded a week's worth of deep immersion into the SSL Gold Cup, many things have become evident. Yes there is vision and objectives, but the commitment from shore crew to sailors, board to staff, is just as exemplary. The command given to the sailors to be in charge of their own destinies is possibly the key element.

Our SSL Gold Cup Team Australia Captain is John Bertrand AO, so I asked him about the need for World Sailing to give the event World Championship status, especially with the finals in Bahrain just around the corner - November 2022.

"Well it seems to be obvious to me. Sitting here in Grandson, Switzerland, where our Team Australia has just completed a week of sailing against multiple nations, the first thing you note is the extraordinary buy-in from the top sailors around the world is extraordinary. There's the Great Man, Robert Scheidt, for example, the skipper of the Brazilian boat, and then the list goes on and on. The Swedes are here, as too the Brits, and Argentina."

"There's something like ten Gold Medallists floating around at the moment. On our boat we've got four Olympic Gold Medallists, and the rest are World Champions in their own right. So the buy-in has been extraordinary because this is an opportunity to have a truly, world championship, and the first shot at this is 56 nations. This is the inaugural event. Other than the Laser class, there's nothing that has the reach that this project has developed", said Bertrand.

Now it is not just 56 nations, it includes the likes of Cuba, Malaysia, Thailand, and Tahiti, which could be considered countries that don't normally get a run at this sort of thing, nor be able to afford the equipment and coaching programme. Little wonder that Tahiti and Cuba for example have seized their opportunities, and are now off to Bahrain as a result.

"This is all about an event where countries can compete on an equal playing field for the first time. There have been some pretty interesting results that we've seen, in terms of the elimination series, and indeed the test event last year, where Brazil, with Robert Scheidt and his team, won all the races, but didn't win the final, the all-important shoot-out. At any rate, world championship status would seem to be a natural development of what we have here."

Now there is a foundation behind this, which is making it all possible. They are keen to have their ranking system be a driver for our sport, just as the ATP is for tennis. However, tennis has one court size, and say three or four main surfaces. We're a little bit different from that; we have multiple craft, multiple locations, and multiple everything, so a ranking system that's fair and real, which will give power to the sailors, which is exactly what it's all about.

It is also reliant on countries providing their information into the system, so that they can be ranked effectively, and have enough sailors in the pool to choose from. The second Gold Cup (every four years just like Football/Soccer) looks set to expand to 74 countries, as more and more see what is available.

"First of all, the ranking system that's currently there needs to be fine-tuned; we know that. But putting that aside, once you get buy-in from the sailors, which in my opinion, has and will continue to happen, then you're you're going to have sailors like Tom Slingsby, just like within the world of tennis or golf, really aspiring to get to number one in the ranking system. So, let me say that this is the first time it's ever been attempted in the world of sailing, and it is more complex, but the ranking is distinctly fundamental to this type of competition that we've got going here."

"More than half our crew came from the Nations ranking system, and the others were Captain's Choice."

JB was also kind enough to share a personal message to him from Poland's Mateusz Kusznierewicz, World Champion in the Star. He was also an Olympic Gold Medallist in the Finn. Bertrand commented, "Mateusz is one of the developers of the SSL Gold Cup. This is a pretty nice summary from a sailor's point of view. "Must be beautiful, exciting, and 'one and only' experience for you and your mates to race together on one boat as a Team Australia, and have the opportunity to compete with Robert Scheidt and other great ones. Including current Olympic Champions."

So the third and final element to it all would be to raise the spectre of the Olympics, for nowhere else is nation v nation in the spirit of friendly camaraderie so firmly entrenched. You also have a team event all of a sudden, as opposed to a pair, and of course, it also allows for sailors to potentially win more than the one medal in the one Olympiad. Nice.

So LA28 would be possible but potentially, unlikely, to drop in the final to give a Nation's Cup, if you like, style aspect to a grand race in the second week of the Olympics. Maybe even an Exhibition Event if it is all to hard, but certainly by Brisbane32 the machinery should be well oiled. The IOC likes teams events, and the SSL47s are One Design.

"Now if you take football, you have eliminations that take place during the intervening years - Oceania, South America, etc. We'll have exactly the same scenario here where you eventually get down to the top 16 nations in Bahrain. They'll all compete such that you get down to four nations, and then the final will be a four-boat shootout."

"Incidentally, each of these eliminations are always involving four boats - four different nations. However, if we're talking about the Olympic Games, then this is a big idea behind the SSL Gold Cup. There's no question about it. This is the only event that I've seen where, again, multiple, multiple nations have a realistic chance of being involved. And when we look at the sport of sailing, which is invariably a closed shop amongst half a dozen, or maybe a dozen nations, the SSL Gold Cup is totally a counter to that point."

The final aspect of this, which we have touched on earlier, is funding. Running soundly means not running on a shoestring. Of course, as JB well knows, a programme or a campaign with funding can achieve the ultimate success. So having achieved ultimate success yourself, do you sort of see a similarity with attaining the goals that they're after here?

"There are some very interesting people behind the SSL Gold Cup, financially, you know. There is no sponsorship involved at this stage of the game. It's all early days. But from everything I see, this is very much a long-term project, and that's great for the sailors, because again, the basic aspiration of the SSL Gold Cup, is to lift the profile of the sailors; to allow the sailors to become the heroes of the sport and to have consistency here."

People from all over the globe will be able to follow the individual sailors and teams for the first time. That's what we've seen this week during our training. We've been sailing against all these characters. It's been fantastic."

In terms of the future, obviously things like the Lego scenario, are quite important to the whole thing to build the children into the aspiration aspect of it all, into the belief and the "I can be there; I can go there" scenario. Again, leveraging off other well developed, not necessarily sports, but events.

"You know, Lego's an amazing thing for kids to be involved with, and again the concept here is for Lego building to be part and parcel of the SSL Gold Cup. They also have been working on obviously electronic gaming, again such that you can compete in real time against the finalists in Bahrain in November. So there are a lot of aspects to this project that they've got going here in Switzerland.

We've spoken at length about the fact that there's one real defining aspect to this, and that it's about promotion of the sailors, and the sport so that they are brought into line with say, F1 and golf and all the rest of it. Can you see that all of that's happening as we've viewed this week?

"Yes I do. Take the uniforms, for example, with the sailors' names on the back of the various individuals. Everything that they do here is about the promotion and the branding of the top sailors of individual countries that are involved. This is the first time that I've seen that in this context. It's almost like reverse engineering in many ways, where again, it's the sailors that are front and centre and not necessarily the organisers, or the sponsors indeed.

OK. There it is. There is loads more on the group's sites for you. Simply use the search field, or 'edition' pull-down menu up the top on the right of the masthead to find it all. Please enjoy your yachting, stay safe, and thanks for tuning into

John Curnow
Editor, Sail-World AUS

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