LAUSANNE (#1214) – On Monday the Star Sailors League introduced a truly national competition, the Star Sailors League Gold Cup. The biennial competition will begin in September-October 2021 in Switzerland in a new one-design, a 47-foot monohull, with the goal of establishing the world’s best sailing nation. The core of the national teams will come from the Star Sailors League, which has attracted world champions and America’s Cup sailors, plus more than 70 Olympians, with 17 gold medals, 16 silver medals and 18 bronze medals among them.
“The whole concept of the SSL Gold Cup is that it will be very similar to the football World Cup, which starts with qualification stages and then progresses to quarterfinals, semifinals and on to finals,” said Polish double Olympic Finn medalist Mateusz Kusznierewicz (POL), who has been appointed Sports Director of the SSL Gold Cup. “That works well in other sports and we want to do the same in sailing.” This format has already been trialed and developed over the last five years at SSL Grand Slam events and the annual SSL Finals.”
The yacht, to be called the "SSL-47," will be sailed by a crew of nine, and each team can have 11 sailors. Crew are obliged to be passport-carrying nationals in line with the nationality requirements of the Olympic Games. Each team will select a captain who is likely to sail, but that is not required. The captain will be responsible for managing and coordinating the team, act as ambassador and run the finances of the campaign.
Among the captains introduced Monday (photo above) were sailing stars Paul Cayard (USA), Freddy Loof (SWE), Sofia Bekatorou (GRE), Robert Scheidt (BRA), Jochen Schümann (GER) and Ian Williams (GBR). Kusznierewicz will also captain the Polish team.
Each captain will choose five sailors, who might fill key roles such as tactician, bowman and pitman. Some have already made early selections. The Italian team has Vasco Vascotto as captain and leading America’s Cup sailor Francesco Bruni has already been signed up as helmsman.
The other remaining sailors on board will be the four highest-placed for that nation in the SSL Ranking.
The SSL Ranking system has been developed during the past five years, tested with the results from a single class of yacht. This will expand dramatically over the coming months. “Every week from now, you will see the new classes and new results being included,” Kusznierewicz said. “By the end of this year everyone from Optimists to Lasers to J/70s, to the Olympic classes, and all inshore racers will be included. That’s really exciting because it is the first time that sailors in one class will be able to compare themselves directly with those in another.” For the world of sailing, which has a large number of classes of yacht and dinghy, this represents both a ground-breaking and a significant development for the sport.
The "SSL47 high-performance keelboat" will be supplied to teams for their use, and training time aboard the boat will be crucial. For this purpose the SSL has established a training center at its new headquarters on the shore of Lake Neuchâtel in Switzerland. The world-class facilities include a private harbor, broadcast center and TV studio, and a fitness center, all housed within the grounds of a manor house set in a large private park. Training will take place from April 2019 until August 2021, and time in the boats will vary according to the caliber of the teams. The most experienced teams will have the opportunity of training for 10 days per year, with World Sailing “Emerging Nations” getting 30 days. These training sessions will also provide an opportunity for teams to try out new crew.
The SSL Gold Cup format will comprise four knock-out qualifying rounds for 16 teams each, taking place out of SSL’s headquarters and training center in Grandson on Lake Neuchâtel. Each of these 16 will be divided into four flights of four boats, the outcome of each based on up to five windward-leeward races.
The four boat fleet races have also been tested in the SSL Finals. “We sat down together with the likes of Craig Monk (NZL), Sime Fantela (CRO), Cayard and more leading sailors, and discussed about how many boats would make it easiest for the spectators to understand the racing. We concluded that four boats was the easiest, also to keep the racing tight and give a chance to teams who are less experienced – without it being a match race,” Kusznierewicz said.
Teams will join the competition according to their pre-event seeding. This seeding will be based on a formula for how each nation ranks over a series of events spanning the breadth of sailing, both yachts and dinghies, internationally, the final calculations including both the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games and the 36th America’s Cup being held in New Zealand in 2021. The lowest-seeded nations will start in the earliest qualifications for the SSL Gold Cup while more successful nations will join the competition subsequently. “It is similar in tennis where, for example, Roger Federer doesn’t play in the qualifiers, due to his previous success,” Kusznierewicz said.
After the qualification rounds, the SSL Gold Cup will move from Lake Neuchâtel to Geneva for the final rounds. The top eight from the qualifying rounds join the top eight seeded teams in the quarters. The top eight from this progress through the semifinals to determine the four finalists and ultimately the winner being crowned the SSL Gold Cup champion nation.
“The idea is to make it as simple as possible, so the quarterfinals and semifinals will consist of five races, while the finals will be single race just like the SSL Finals,” Kusznierewicz said. “We want to make it really easy for spectators to understand who is the winner and which team will be crowned the ‘best sailing nation’.”
The SSL Gold Cup is open to any nations of the 144 Member National Authorities recognized by World Sailing. As the chances for developed sailing nations will be significantly better than for emerging nations, the format has been designed to boost the chances for emerging nations. To achieve this, the SSL divides the world into three zones: Europe, Africa-Americas, Oceania-Asia. This is then reflected in the number of entries from each - so at each stage of the qualifying rounds the fresh influx of entries will comprise 50% from Europe and 25% each from Africa-Americas and Oceania-Asia.
Within the first three months after the entry period opened, and with six months to go until the entry deadline for the 2021 SSL Gold Cup, forty countries from all five continents confirmed their participation. A maximum of 48 teams will be able compete in this first edition of the SSL Gold Cup.
More on Tuesday's TFE LIVE, as always at 1300 Pacific / 2000 UTC on our Sailing Illustrated Facebook page.
Video, above, from Monday's announcement in Lausanne courtesy of the SSL. Bit of a strange thumbnail, but an informative video about this exciting development for grand prix yacht racing.