America's Cup 2003 - the right time for Britain?

With rumours continuing to circulate about a British America's Cup challenge, Mark Chisnell takes a look at the arguments for and against
Let's start by saying that at some stage, Britain must get back into the America's Cup game. It's still the most recognised sailing contest in the world, one of the big three events that sailors consider essential to their CVs - the Olympics and the Volvo (nee Whitbread Race) being the others - and the one that has seen a minimal British participation since 1987, our last full challenge. It's difficult to create a long-lived and well-paying sailing career out of the Olympic classes alone, and British medallists need something substantial to move onto next. The America's Cup is an obvious goal, the question is whether or not the 2003 event is the right one for the first British challenge in over a decade. It's likely that the handful of medals won by British sailors in Sydney will significantly raise the profile of the sport in this country. It's also probable that this raised profile can be traded for more sponsorship - but is a 2003 America's Cup challenge the right thing to spend that money on? Any challenge launched at this stage will be playing catch-up to the big four - Prada, Gilmour's Seattle syndicate, Dickson and his Oracle Racing, and Coutts' Swiss operation - not to mention a Team New Zealand defence that will probably suffer little for the loss of an older generation, and Dennis Conner's New York Yacht Club bid. All with more money than Britain is ever likely to raise, more experience and more time - the point is that Britain can't hope to win in 2003, and any challenge must go forward under that premise. But to win it (eventually), you have to be in it, and British sailing has to start regaining Cup experience. If the PR is handled right, a cheap, one-boat,