Alinghi team reflects Swiss multiculturalism

The Alinghi team sails under the Swiss flag.

The Alinghi sailing team are currently undergoing a period of intensive training in the Swiss mountains in preparation for next year's America's Cup in Valencia.

This content was published on March 8, 2006 - 16:50

But with fewer than a fifth of the team carrying a Swiss passport, can the current cupholders really be described as Swiss?

For the team members, Alinghi's "Swissness" is not a matter of nationality but of the team's distinctive professionalism and multicultural composition.

When Alinghi won the coveted America's Cup in 2003, Switzerland suddenly became passionate about sailing.

For weeks, thousands of Swiss were glued to their televisions throughout the night watching the thrilling exploits of the Swiss team, who – in the waters off Auckland, New Zealand – proved their boat was the fastest in the world.

When they returned to Geneva with the trophy, Ernesto Bertarelli, Alinghi's Swiss president, and the other members of the team were welcomed like heroes by the authorities and thousands of fans madly waving Swiss flags.

Alinghi thus became a source of patriotic pride, as well as projecting a triumphant image of Switzerland abroad.

National identity

Yet despite sailing under the colours of the Société Nautique de Genève, Alinghi's Swissness seems questionable – at least at first glance.

To defend the title in 2007, the team has had to "emigrate" to Valencia in Spain, on the shores of the Mediterranean.

Of the hundred or so team members, fewer than 20 hold Swiss passports; the remainder comprises 18 nationalities. One in four is from New Zealand.

In fact, team members are not keen to identify themselves with a single country.

"I do not think one's country of origin or national flag is particularly important," said Francesco Rapetti, the Italian mastman. "Hats off, then, to the Swiss Confederation and people, who have always understood and respected our uniqueness."

By distancing himself from any national allegiance, Rapetti hit upon the characteristic which, perhaps more than any other, links Alinghi with Switzerland: its "multiculturalism".


None of the other teams brings people of such different origins together under one boom.

"Only the Swiss, with their wealth of positive experience back home, have managed to do it," maintained Virginie Nivelleau, an expert in developing software to analyse the performance of sailing boats.

The French scientist and her husband François have worked for other teams. "Three or four nationalities at most were represented, and I can tell you there was not the sense of harmony I have found with Alinghi."

This integration of several cultures had to be tried and tested before the team could work effectively together.

"When we arrived, the Swiss seemed excessively serious, even superior," said Nivelleau. "Then we understood it was simply that they have a different sense of humour."

Over time, initial communication problems became a source of strength.

Rapetti explained: "We had to make great efforts to perfect our communication, maybe discussing more than would normally be the case. But now we benefit from the easy exchange of information we have achieved."

Swiss precision

The Swiss character is also evident in other important areas. For example, 70 per cent of the team's sponsorship comes from Swiss businesses.

Then there is Alinghi's collaboration with the Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne, enabling the team to benefit from the best possible technological support.

Last but not least, the boat with which the team will be defending its title in 2007 is built in a secret workshop in Nyon, in the French-speaking part of Switzerland.

Swiss culture is also evident in the team's approach to its work. "Precision and punctuality are one of Alinghi's strengths," said Jean-Claude Monnin, a Swiss IT specialist who works on the design side.

This quality was also emphasised by Nivelleau. "The other teams envy our strict professionalism: everything is always well organised, immaculate and clean. How much more Swiss can you get?"


Key facts

107 people make up the Alinghi team in Valencia.
The team comprises 19 nationalities including 26 New Zealanders.
There are 17 Swiss, of whom only five are in the crew which sails the boat.
The team president, Ernesto Bertarelli, is Swiss.

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In brief

The America's Cup is the oldest and most prestigious trophy in the world of sailing.

It is awarded to the winner of a series of races between the cup-holder's boat (the defender) and a challenger.

The first race, held in England in 1851, was won by the yacht "America" from the New York Yacht Club, whose boats remained unbeaten for 132 years (until 1983).

In 2003, Alinghi wrested victory from the New Zealand defender and the trophy came to Europe for the first time.

The next competition is due to be held in 2007 in Valencia, Spain.

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