International Papers

Swiss Cheats?

Switzerland’s victory in the America’s Cup—the first for a European nation, the first for a first-time challenger, and the first for a land-locked country—sent the cowbells a-ringing in Geneva and the grapes a-souring in New Zealand, where the defending champions were vanquished 5-0 by the Alinghi. The Daily News of Taranaki moaned, “New Zealand was beaten from within when its successful 1995 cup-winning and 2000 cup-defending skipper, tactician and key crew members, and its yacht designer, abandoned ship for obscenely high overseas pay offers.” The editorial referred to Swiss skipper Ernesto Bertarelli’s recruitment of Russell Coutts, Brad Butterworth, and other key Kiwi components in the team that included sailors from 15 nations. (The New Zealand crew included just two non-Kiwis.) The Daily News continued: “For the lack of a generous billionaire with sailing pretensions, it is bizarre that New Zealand now becomes the first cup-holder beaten by its own countrymen.” The paper predicted the defectors “will probably wake up in a sweat one night, one year, and agonise about what they really accomplished.” The Canterbury Press put a positive spin on the defections: “Team NZ can take comfort from the fact that it could not have lost to better yachtsmen.”

The Tribune de Genève credited the win to Swiss know-how, “Even if Ernesto Bertarelli called on ‘mercenaries’ to guide his boat in Auckland Bay, Alinghi is first and foremost a Swiss challenger. In its technology. In its skills. It was born in Lausanne’s Federal Polytechnic School.” The editorial concluded, “Today the America’s Cup isn’t the property of one man or one team. It also belongs to the nation. Which has finally caught sight of the sea.” Le Temps, also from Geneva, said that despite the multinational composition of the team, the victory generated national pride. Still, the editorial continued, foreign contributions only work “in conditions of sufficient integration, of participation in a team, a sincere bond with shared values and shared goals.”

Britain’s Guardian reported that, in “a new low,” Team New Zealand had suggested, “without formal substantiation,” that members of the Swiss team had used illegal performance-enhancing drugs. The drug cited in the informal complaint was Saizen, a product of Serono, the pharmaceutical company controlled by Bertarelli. The Financial Times profiled the 37-year-old skipper, who was “dismissed as a wealthy playboy who lacked his father’s entrepreneurial skills” when he took over Serono in 1996. “Since then, Serono’s profits have increased by more than 10 fold, and the company has transformed itself into Europe’s biggest pure biotech company and is growing at 15-20 per cent a year.” Bertarelli runs the team like a global company with a staff of 95 and eight units focused on everything from boat design to training. Since America’s Cup rules require that it be held on “an arm of the sea,” Switzerland is barred from holding its defense on Lake Geneva. According to Britain’s Independent, possible “treasure chest” venues include Cascais, Portugal; Spain’s Palma, Majorca; or Bertarelli’s native Italy.

Even if its grasp of America’s Cup history was rather skimpy (the cup got its name because a yacht named America won the first challenge), the Independent found great “symbolic importance” in Team Alinghi’s victory:

The America’s Cup is so called because a United States team challenged the Brits to a boat race in 1851 and fought off all-comers for 132 years. To have “their” cup stolen from them again is a triumph for anti-Americanism. But to have the trophy taken by Switzerland, home of the League of Nations, headquarters of neutralism, seems, at this juncture of world affairs, even more thoroughly fitting.