Sun, Apr 17, 2005 - Page 22 News List

Team Shosholoza shows new face of South African sport


If it seemed just a little bit wacky two years ago that landlocked Switzerland could win the biggest prize in sailing, it's downright revolutionary that South Africa now is competing for the America's Cup with a racially mixed crew.

Team Shosholoza represents the new face of South Africa, which abolished segregation just 15 years ago. With blacks and whites sailing together, the syndicate certainly is bringing a fresh look to the 154-year-old America's Cup.

"What we're trying to do is work together as a team and just put aside the fact there's a difference in color, race, whatever you want to call it," crew member Ashton Sampson, who is black, said while decompressing after a day of intense racing on the Pacific Ocean in the Congressional Cup, where he and four of his Team Shosholoza mates have come for desperately needed match-racing experience.

"Each one's got to do their thing on a team to make the next person's life easier," Sampson said. "At the end of the day, what it comes down to is you're depending on someone else. Whether the person's black, blue, whatever, it doesn't matter. We just forget those issues and treat each other respectfully and work hard."

As far as historians can tell, only three blacks have sailed in the America's Cup, all in 1992. Two sailed with eventual winner America3, and one with Team Dennis Conner.

Team Shosholoza, the first America's Cup challenger from Africa, has been attracting a lot of attention on its improbable nautical journey. It made headlines earlier this year when it plowed into a whale while training off Cape Town, damaging its 24m sloop, injuring several crewmen and dumping another into the ocean. The crewman was rescued and the whale apparently was OK.

As for representing social change in their homeland, it doesn't seem to be that big a deal to the crewmen.

"For us, it's just a normal thing for our country right now, as it so happens," said Ian Ainslie, who is white.

Team Shosholoza -- it's a Zulu word meaning "keep moving forward" -- was launched by Salvatore Sarno, an Italian shipping magnate who moved to South Africa nearly 20 years ago.

Sarno, who has had a black crew sailing his racing yacht for 10 years, discovered that people didn't know a lot about his adopted homeland.

"When they were asking questions like, `How many elephants do you see between the airport and your home?' I realized we need to show South Africa in a different light," Sarno said recently in an interview with America's Cup Magazine.

Ainslie, a three-time Olympian in the single-handed Finn class, runs a sailing school for disadvantaged youths near Cape Town. When he joined Team Shosholoza, he brought along some of the sailors he helped develop.

"Our stated aim was to give opportunities to a team, because none of us had the experience, anyway," said Ainslie, a helmsman and tactician. "You're on there on merit. But the opportunity is given to you, because in the past, opportunities weren't given to you. Now they're given. So if you grab it -- and the guys all have, of course. They're very good."

The comparatively low-budget team has only 24 sailors on the roster, seven of whom are black. Since it takes 17 crewmen to sail an America's Cup sloop, Team Shosholoza doesn't even have enough for full `A' and `B' teams.

Team Shosholoza acknowledged the past when it took its name.

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