A New International Experience for RSA Sailors

by Richard Crockett

South African sailors have for too long now been deprived of top quality international competition due the fact that distance, and costs due to our ailing currency, simply makes even qualifying for the Olympic Games out of the reach of almost every single sailor. Sad but true!

Now there is a real opportunity for our local sailors to literally “reach for the stars” and compete internationally thanks to a new world initiative by the Star Sailors League and the SSL Gold Cup event.

There are few sporting events in recent memory that have lifted our nation, with the exception of last years Rugby World Cup where inspired leadership from both Captain Siya Kolisi and coach Rassie Erasmus, gave the team, picked solely on merit I may add, a belief that they could shed the underdog tag and beat the best in the world.

The Shosholoza America’s Cup campaign also caught the imagination of the public as it pitted our team of underdogs against the best in the world, and more importantly showed the world there was “mongrel” in the team that would simply not lie down and ever give up. Crowd favourites too, we never won “the Cup”, but each and every single person involved in that campaign, from sailors to the support team, came away far better people. For many of the sailors that was a defining moment in their lives when they took control and have become in demand as crew in international events around the world.

The SSL believes that their Gold Cup could rival the Olympics. Dennis Conner, the Pelé of sailing, quadruple winner of the America’s Cup and an advocate for the ground breaking new event, considers that the SSL GOLD CUP will, thanks to the new SSL organisation, become a new pinnacle within the sport of sailing to rival the Olympics.

The reason is simply this: In sailing there is no equivalent of the soccer or rugby world cup which produces a world champion country.

That’s about to change and South African sailors are part of this, and will initially compete regionally against Argentina, Bahamas, Bermuda, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Colombia, United States, US Virgin Islands, Mexico, Peru, and Uruguay – and hopefully the team selected will have the same passion, spirit and youthful look coupled with experience and wise heads as our Springbok rugby player had when they lifted the Webb Ellis Cup.

This is no pie-in-the-sky dream. It’s reality thanks to Michel Niklaus of Switzerland who has been funding and running an event called the Star Sailors League for the past 6 years, and is now organizing this World Sailing sanctioned “world cup of sailing” to be held in 2021 in Switzerland.

The SSL Gold Cup will pit teams of 11 athletes of the same nationality, each wearing the colours of a country affiliated to international federation (ie World Sailing’s 144 member national authorities). And like the Football World Cup, the SSL Gold Cup will bring together all the best athletes of its discipline, who, thanks to the support of the event’s organizers will both lend the boats and lay on a training centre for the use of participating national teams for the duration of the competition. In short – this represents a giant first for sailing!

At this stage, 32 countries have already confirmed entries to the event for which there is no entry fee. The 47-foot boats are provided and the organization is even offering to pay all of the travel expenses for the RSA team. This is an extremely exciting opportunity for a South African team to compete against the very best teams in the world.

The aim in South Africa is to create a diverse sailing team to give young, talented and extremely motivated sailors the opportunity to make a jump into the big league of sailing while also doing the country proud in the event.

Former triple Olympian, Ian Ainslie, was chosen by the board of the Star Sailors League to be the team captain for RSA. He founded the Izivunguvungu sailing school in 2001 and ran it until 2005. He will be making a presentation at the Royal Cape Yacht Club on Friday 24 January at 18h30.

His presentation will be about how the team will be selected, the training plans, goals and the likely challenges for the team. This will be followed in the coming weeks by a weekend of actual hands-on sailing, training and racing with the ultimate intention of being able to select a sailing squad to begin training and ultimately represent our country in 2021.

More information from Ian Ainslieian.ainslie1@gmail.com

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Register your interest HERE

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