- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 9, 2000

This story about Bill Gates and the America's Cup is too good to be true. (But since it's a slow news day, I'm going to write about it anyway.) Did you see the item in the paper yesterday morning? The Observer in London reports that the Microsoft mogul is part of a secret American syndicate that's trying to buy New Zealand's championship sailing team so it can compete for the United States in the 2003 Cup.

And how, exactly, does it propose to do this? By offering the team $60,000 signing bonuses, $150,000 annual salaries for six years and get this American citizenship.

If you can't beat 'em, buy 'em. It's the American way.

The timing of this story is just beautiful. Only last week, we learned that the top marathoner in the world, a Moroccan, married an American woman and was eligible to run for the United States in future Olympics. And now comes word of this sailing subterfuge. What is Gates trying to do, impress the membership committee at Augusta National Country Club?

How would you like to be the New Zealand team three years from now, returning to its home waters to race under the flag of the good ol' U.S.A.? It would be like John Rocker returning to New York multiplied by 10. The Kiwis would be lucky if their boat wasn't sunk by a sub.

Speaking of which, does the Secret Syndicate expect them to bring their own boat BYOB? And what if New Zealand customs officials confiscate it at the border declaring, you know, eminent domain or something? Whatever happens, rest assured CNN (owned by former America's Cupper Ted Turner) will be there to provide 'round-the-clock coverage. There's nothing like a hostage situation to boost ratings, even if the hostage is a 75-foot monohull.

There might not be a shred of truth to the Observer's report, but it sure sounds like something we'd do. Let's face it, Americans hate to lose at anything, from tiddlywinks on up, and we had come to view the America's Cup as our personal possession. But then New Zealand hung us by the mizzenmast in the '95 finals, and in the most recent Cup we didn't even make the finals (which pitted the Kiwis against Italy's collection of Christopher Columbuses). Our pride has been seriously stung. America is, after all, the country that invented wind surfing.

New Zealand, on the other hand, is this itty-bitty island Down Under that wasn't known for much of anything, sports-wise, until Black Magic I blew away Young America five years ago. Ask me to name three Kiwi athletes, and I'd say, "Peter Snell, Grant Waite and … I'd like to use a lifeline." Wait, I just thought of a couple more Michael Campbell and Chris Lewis. (Snell was a middle-distance runner, Waite and Campbell are golfers and Lewis played tennis.)

New Zealand isn't the end of the earth, but it's in the general vicinity. (Rand McNally has rated it one of the Top 20 Places to Hide Your Child in a Custody Battle.) Since Black Magic I won the America's Cup, though, the world has become a bit more Kiwi-conscious and the skipper and crew have become national heroes. And now a Secret Syndicate wants to take that away? Have we no shame? I mean, couldn't we just keep our fingers crossed and hope these guys defect?

Maybe this is just the next step in the evolutionary process, athletically speaking. We already kidnap hockey and basketball players from Europe and baseball players from everywhere to play on our college and professional teams. So what's the big deal about ordering an America's Cup team "to go," right? After all, didn't Martina Navratilova, Czechoslovakia born and bred, compete for us in the Federation Cup after she became a naturalized citizen?

I kind of like the way golf does it, though. In golf, you have to be a native American to be eligible for our Ryder or Presidents Cup squads (with rare exceptions) which, to me, makes perfect sense. You don't want the American team loading up with Greg Norman, Nick Price or any of those other fly-by-night Floridians. It would destroy the spirit of the competition, which in any international event is: Us vs. Them. When you let Them play for Us so that Us can beat what's left of Them it turns the whole thing into a travesty.

It's just a scream that Bill Gates reportedly is involved in this. Bill Gates Mr. Anti-Competitive Practice. The Secret Syndicate had better be careful, though. If we become too dominant in the America's Cup, if our crew turns out to be too good, the Justice Department probably will step in and break it up.

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