And the famed competition is all set to catapult Oman on the global sailing map as Muscat will host the prestigious Louis Vuitton America's Cup World Series on February 27-28.
It will be the first time that a country in the Middle East will ever host the America's Cup racing. The point-scoring event is part of the opening stages of the 35th America’s Cup that will be held in Bermuda in June 2017. The Oman leg will be the curtain raiser to the 2016 season, which will be spread over six different venues around the world.
Addressing a press conference at The Chedi, Muscat, on Sunday, Oman Sail CEO David Graham, said, “The America’s Cup is the pinnacle of sailboat racing. It has a long and interesting history and we are thrilled to be hosting the first Louis Vuitton America’s Cup World Series event in 2016 in Oman.”
Backed by Oman's Ministry of Tourism, Almouj and Oman Air, the America's Cup World Series (ACWS) is expected to not only attract thousands of visitors to Oman but also make a global impact that will boost sports tourism in the sultanate.
The broadcast is likely to reach nearly 200 countries through 15,000 news bulletins and statistics reveal that the 2013 edition had 24.8mn views of the event on YouTube.
Graham believes that the wide reach of the America’s Cup will create new opportunities for Oman and increase the country’s exposure around the world.
“Oman Sail has worked hard since its inception in 2008 to reconnect the people of Oman with their maritime roots and to create a generation of sailors.
“We have a very successful youth, women, national and international sailing programme and are actively generating socio-economic benefits for the country. We are committed towards contributing to the development of the Omani people through sailing. Hosting a America’s Cup World Series event will provide huge inspiration to our sailors and take us closer to our goals.
“The America’s Cup brand is incredibly powerful. It will be a monumental opportunity for us to showcase Oman and to celebrate a landmark moment in the history of Oman Sail.”
For many of the America’s Cup sailors likely to compete in February, the waters off Oman will be familiar territory. Sailing stars like Ben Ainslie (Land Rover BAR), Dean Barker (SoftBank Team Japan) and Franck Cammas (Groupama Team France) have in the past participated in the Extreme Sailing Series (ESS) Acts in Muscat over the past few years.
The America’s Cup trophy, which was specially flown in to Oman, took centre stage at the press conference.
Also present were Harvey Schiller, America's Cup commercial commissioner, Salim al Mamari, director-general of tourism promotion for the Ministry of Tourism and Paul Gregorowitsch, CEO of Oman Air.
Schiller said, “Oman is an ideal place for us to open the 2016 racing calendar. It’s exciting to be bringing America’s Cup racing to this part of the world for the first time. We all look forward to adding to the success of Oman Sail with this historic event.”
He added, “The strong support of the government along with the keen interest shown by Oman Sail was key to our decision to bringing the event to Oman. As there is no formal bidding process, we look into various factors before taking a final decision. Oman perfectly fitted the bill that we were looking to for making our debut in the Middle East.” Mamari said, “We are proud and delighted to welcome the America’s Cup community and its massive following to Oman.”
Gregorowitsch said 'the hosting of America's Cup World Series will give a boost to sports tourism and put Oman strongly on the world map as a destination to visit.'
“America’s Cup gives the national carrier a huge opportunity to support sailing, which will in turn support the country’s economy and tourism, and promote the country globally,” said the Oman Air chief.
In February, spectators in Muscat are in for a real treat as the foiling AC45 yachts, capable of breath taking speeds, fly across the water in front of the fans.
And with points counting towards the America’s Cup Qualifiers in 2017, the Oman event will give fans their first opportunity of 2016 to see all the sailors seeking to gain an early advantage.
The America’s Cup dates back to 1851 and over the past 160 years, teams representing just four nations - US, Australia, New Zealand and Switzerland - have won the trophy.
Though in all likelihood the event will be held off the shores of Almouj, there is a proposal to have it off the Muttrah Corniche. Oman Sail officials said that a final decision will be taken soon.
A brief history of the America's Cup
First contested in 1851, the America’s Cup trophy’s roots date back to when a syndicate of businessmen from New York sailed the schooner America across the Atlantic Ocean to represent the US at the World’s Fair in England. The schooner won a race around the Isle of Wight and, with it, a trophy called the 100£ Cup. (It was subsequently inscribed, incorrectly, as the 100 Guineas Cup.)
After winning the trophy, the US embarked on what would become the longest winning streak in the history of sport, a 132-year stretch of domination that saw boats representing the country successfully defend the trophy 24 times from 1870 through 1980 - until 1983, when Australia II became the first successful challenger to lift the trophy.
Throughout its history, the America’s Cup has bedazzled a worldwide roster of larger-than-life sailing figures such as Tom Blackaller, Peter Blake, Paul Cayard, Dennis Conner, and Russell Coutts. Now, a new generation of sailing superstars have taken up the challenge, like Britain’s Ben Ainslie and Iain Percy, and Australians Jimmy Spithill, Tom Slingsby and Nathan Outteridge, along with Kiwis Dean Barker, Peter Burling and Blair Tuke, and French superstar Franck Cammas.
The defending champion is Oracle Team USA, who first won the America’s Cup in 2010, and successfully defended the title in 2013.
In the present competition six teams, including Oracle, have signed up to take on the challenge again. The 35th America’s Cup will be in June 2017 on the Great Sound of Bermuda. Prior to that racing in a series of preliminary events, collectively known as the Louis Vuitton America’s Cup World Series, has taken place at selected venues in 2015 and Oman opens the 2016 campaign.
Each America’s Cup World Series (ACWS) event consists of four fleet races. The scores accumulate within each event, to determine podium finishers, and across the entire 2015-16 series, which will determine an overall winner at the conclusion of racing in 2016.
The top teams from the full schedule of ACWS events will be awarded bonus points to carry forward into the America’s Cup qualifiers in 2017.
The ACWS is the first stage of the competition for the 2017 America's Cup and began with three events last year. Following the three events, Emirates Team New Zealand (122) has a ten-point lead over Oracle Team USA (112) with Land Rover BAR in third place (109). Artemis Racing (105) is fourth and SoftBank Team Japan (100) is fifth. Groupama is sixth with 82 points.