Yesterday, Luna Rossa, the Italian team in this year's America's Cup, finally bowed to the inevitable. Overwhelmed by the superior speed of the New Zealand boat, the Italians were eliminated on a foggy San Francisco Bay. Everyone had seen this day coming for a while, the Prada sailors unable to win a single start during the Louis Vuitton finals, letting the Kiwis romp unopposed to the first mark and then get up on their daggerboards to hydrofoil away from the Italians.
Normally this would not be much of a story, but in some corners, the fact that the Italians stayed in the Finals was the story. A column written last week even stated that Luna Rossa should have pulled out of the finals in protest for how the America's Cup has been conducted so far. The reasoning was that in doing this, the Italians would have been celebrated as putting their ideals ahead of their need to win.
As someone who has played competitive sports essentially my whole life, I cannot see the logic behind this argument. It infantilizes the Italians as a team that can't handle losing. Look, the Italians probably knew in their hearts they were not going to get past the flying Kiwis, butut they are already setting their sights on the next Cup, and this was a chance to learn not just the boat, but how to run the 100+ person machine called an America's Cup syndicate. What they learn this year, from preparing the boat, to running shore operations, will be invaluable the next time around. Pulling out now would deprive them of that knowledge and experience.
The cry for the Italians to quit was ostensibly about "making a statement" that the decisions this year resulted in boats that were too dangerous, and that because of that, Andrew "Bart" Simpson from Artemis Racing lost his life. And so pulling out -- the thinking goes -- would be an honorable statement that Bertelli's sailors were more important to him than participating in the race.
That is just wrong.
First, none of us know what actually caused the death of Simpson. It could turn out that a structural failure had as much to do with the boat as the conditions at the time. And mind you, in comparison to other sports, the America's Cup is remarkably safe. Over 30 people have lost their lives at Daytona, but there are no teams marching out of the pits last time I checked.
Also, dropping out pulls the rug out from your sailors, not The Cup. These men gave years of their lives to prepare for this Cup, moving their families, and enduring a grueling schedule that only other America's Cup contenders can understand. Artemis' sailors deserve to be honored, and the Luna Rossa sailors do, too.
Finally (and this is the biggest problem for me) I am glad the Italians stayed in until the end, because in reality, pulling out of the finals would have been the ultimate insult, not compliment, to Artemis Racing. If the Italians had wanted to honor Artemis and the life that was lost, they would have pulled out in the semifinals, and let Artemis through to race New Zealand. Beating the Swedish team and then walking away after all the Swedes had to do to get Artemis back on the water would have been irrational and insulting.
But the Italians didn't do that thankfully. They raced until the end, and then showed what real sportsmanship and grace in sports looks like. After the final race the Italians filed a protest with the America's Cup jury. The protest read:
LUNA ROSSA OFFICIALLY PROTEST EMIRATES TEAM NEW ZEALAND
From: Luna Rossa Challenge
Sent: Sunday, 25 August 2013 2:01 p.m.
To: AC Jury
Subject: Luna Rossa protests against Team New Zealand
Luna Rossa protests against Team New Zealand for speeding while sailing today's race and crossing the finish line at more than 40knts!
We will however withdraw the protest immediately if they undertake to take the XXXIV America's Cup from the Defender!
Luna Rossa desires to the Challenger good winds and the best of luck!
It has been a pleasure to compete against you.
Luis Saenz Mariscal
Now that's making a statement.