The Malta Independent 23 February 2020, Sunday

Sailing: Malta becomes smallest nation to challenge for America's Cup

Associated Press Friday, 7 December 2018, 07:48 Last update: about 2 years ago

The Mediterranean archipelago of Malta has become the smallest country to challenge for the America's Cup, adding an intriguing element to the competition for sailing's biggest prize even if it faces extremely long odds to win the oldest trophy in international sports.

The Royal Malta Yacht Club's challenge has been accepted by the Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron, making it the fourth challenger for the 36th America's Cup in 2021 in Auckland.

Malta Altus Challenge's team principal is Pasquale Cataldi, an Italian businessman based in Malta and the founder and CEO of Altus, a multinational real state and development company. The sailing team, which will include Malta nationals and international sailors as allowed under the cup's protocol, will be announced in early 2019.

As a late entry and with a restricted budget compared to the other challengers, Malta Altus Challenge is planning on a one-boat campaign and will look to Emirates Team New Zealand for inspiration, Cataldi said in a statement.

"We don't need to be the biggest team. We want to stay focused on what we have to do to succeed and be smart with how we use our resources," Cataldi said. "We have already seen in the past how a similar approach by New Zealand allowed a smaller team to defeat bigger rivals."

Malta has a population of approximately 460,000 and a land mass of just 122 square miles (316 square kilometers).

The previous smallest challenger was New Zealand. The Kiwis failed in their first three attempts to win the America's Cup before stunning Dennis Conner in a five-race sweep off San Diego in 1995.

"After New Zealand, they are now the smallest country to challenge for the America's Cup. We know what it is like to be a small team facing long odds in taking on one of the biggest challenges in sport and we wish them the best," Emirates Team New Zealand CEO Grant Dalton said in a statement.

New Zealand defended the America's Cup in 2000 before losing it in 2003 to Alinghi of Switzerland. The Kiwis were on the cusp of winning it back in 2013 but blew an 8-1 lead against Oracle Team USA in one of the biggest collapses in sports. The underfunded and underdog Kiwis bounced back in 2017 in Bermuda, stunning Oracle Team USA to take the silver trophy back Down Under.

Malta's strategic position in the Mediterranean has made it a hub of maritime activity and an important port throughout history. The Royal Malta Yacht Club traces its origins to 1835, predating the America's Cup by 16 years.

Cataldi said his group plans to do three editions of the America's Cup.

"If you want to build a strong team, then you need to commit to three America's Cup cycles. I think everyone in this edition is in it for the long-term. We have a new class, so the game is level for everybody, and the differences are not so much," he said.

Malta Altus Challenge joins Challenger of Record Luna Rossa of Italy, the New York Yacht Club's American Magic and INEOS Team UK in the group that will contend for the Prada Cup and the right to face Emirates Team New Zealand in the America's Cup match.

The Royal Malta Yacht Club's challenge was the first of eight late entries received by the RNZYS at last week's deadline. It's not known how many of the other late challenges will be accepted. It's possible that another U.S. team will emerge.

The next America's Cup will be contested in high-performance, foiling 75-foot monohulls after the previous two editions were sailed in foiling catamarans.

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