A new era in competitive sailing dawned today with the official launch of the Star Sailors League Gold Cup. This will see each nation’s top sailing athletes team together into a single crew and then race against one another aboard high performance 47 foot long one design monohulls to establish ‘the world’s best sailing nation’. Boats are supplied to ensure that, as in the Olympics, it is the sailors who make the difference and not the boats. The SSL Gold Cup also aims to create household names of each nation’s top sailing heroes on the basis that sports fans are more likely to support their national teams than the club teams in their country.
Designated by the sport’s governing body, World Sailing, as a ‘Special Event’, the SSL Gold Cup is the ultimate event conceived by some of international sailing’s most accomplished athletes and the Star Sailors League (SSL), the organisation that created the SSL Ranking, the SSL Grand Slams and the annual SSL Finals. The SSL Gold Cup is set to occur biennially, taking place for the first time in Switzerland during September and October 2021.
The best sailors in the world compete for significant prize money in Star Sailors League events. These have attracted top world champions and America’s Cup sailors, plus over 70 Olympians, with 17 gold medals, 16 silver medals and 18 bronze medals between them. These athletes will form the core of their national teams competing in the SSL Gold Cup.
Polish double Olympic Finn medallist Mateusz Kusznierewicz, who has been appointed Sports Director of the SSL Gold Cup, explains: “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 quarter-finals, semi-finals and on to finals. That works well in other sports and we want to do the same in sailing.”
This format has already been trialled and developed over the last five years at SSL Grand Slam events and the annual SSL Finals.
Specifically, the SSL Gold Cup format will comprise four knock-out qualifying rounds for 16 teams each, taking place out of SSL’s state of the art headquarters and training centre 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, Paul Cayard and Sime Fantela, and many 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,” says Kusznierewicz.
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 in New Zealand in April 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,” says Kusznierewicz.
After the qualification rounds, the SSL Gold Cup then moves from Lake Neuchâtel to Geneva for the final rounds. Here on Lake Geneva the top eight from the qualifying rounds join the top eight seeded teams in the quarter-finals. The top eight from this progress through semi-finals 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 quarter-finals and semi-finals will consist of five races, while the finals will be single race just like the SSL Finals,” continues Kusznierewicz. “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 recognised 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.
The make-up of the eleven sailors in each national team will be strictly controlled. Crew are obliged to be passport-carrying nationals in line with the nationality requirements of the Olympic Games.
For each team a ‘captain’ is selected. The captain is likely to sail on board, but that is not required. Among the captain’s responsibilities are to manage and co-ordinate the team, to act as ambassador for the team and to run the finances of the campaign.
The first group of nations has been revealed today:
BRAZIL – represented by Robert Scheidt
CANADA – represented by Richard Clarke (C)
CROATIA – represented by Igor Marenič on behalf of Sime Fantela (C)
ESTONIA – represented by Tõnu Tõniste (C), Tommas Tõniste and Andrus Poksi
GERMANY – represented by Frithjof Kleen (C), Jochen Schümann, Philipp Buhl
GREAT BRITAIN – represented by Matthew Cornwell on behalf of Ian Williams (C)
GREECE – represented by Sofia Bekatorou (C), Michail Pateniotis
HUNGARY – represented by Zsombor Berecz (C)
ITALY – represented by Vasco Vascotto (C) and Francesco Bruni
THE NETHERLANDS – represented by Roy Heiner (C)
NORWAY – represented by Eivind Melleby (C)
POLAND – represented by Mateusz Kusznierewicz (C)
PORTUGAL – represented by João Rodrigues (C) and Afonso Dominguez
SLOVENIA – represented by Vasilij Žbogar (C)
SPAIN – represented by Roberto Bermudez on behalf of Luis Doreste (C)
SWEDEN – represented by Freddy Lööf (C)
SWITZERLAND – represented by Eric Monnin (C)
TURKEY – represented by Aliçan Keynar (C)
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA – represented by Paul Cayard (C)
Significantly it is the captain of each team who gets to choose five sailors, which, for example, might fill key roles on board 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. Similarly, Star sailor Frithjof Kleen is captain of the German team which includes Olympic legend and America’s Cup winner Jochen Schümann.
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 over 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,” says Kusznierewicz. “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 to be used for the SSL Gold Cup 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 state of the art training centre at its new headquarters on the shore of Lake Neuchâtel in Switzerland. The world class facilities here include a private harbour, broadcast centre and TV studio, and a fitness centre, all housed within the grounds of a manor house set in a large private park. From here SSL Gold Cup teams will get the opportunity to learn to race the high performance one design SSL47 keelboats. Training will take place from April 2019 until August 2021 and its amount will vary according to the calibre of the teams: The most experienced teams will have the opportunity of training for 10 days per year; World Sailing ‘Emerging Nations’ getting 30 days. These training sessions will also provide an opportunity for teams to try out new crew.
While the first SSL Gold Cup will take place in 2021, the aim is for this competition to take place biennially after this. In the meantime, over the coming weeks there will be further announcements of new national teams and their captains.