Somebody's Knocking My Dreamboat

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Le Défi's crew goes through its paces in 2001

Even with the challenger series to decide who will race Team New Zealand for the big prize still four months away, a brouhaha surrounding French challenger Le Dfi and its main sponsor Areva, a nuclear energy company, already has the yachting world abuzz. Yachting purists complain that nuclear power and wind power go together about as well as oil and water. New Zealand sailors are particularly incensed because the America's Cup village in Auckland, where the competition is based, is just meters away from where French secret agents blew up Greenpeace's protest ship Rainbow Warrior in 1985. When Le Dfi tried to launch its new boat recently, anti-nuke activists in inflatables crowded the port at Lorient, Brittany and a Greenpeace dinghy hit the French yacht, damaging its hull. In best America's Cup tradition, Le Dfi threatened to sue. "This was a deliberate act of aggression," said syndicate head Xavier de Lesquen. "The team has been endlessly insulted and abused on the water." Bruno Rebelle, head of Greenpeace France, says police were satisfied the bump was accidental, the damage minimal and, two weeks later, he has had no lawsuit. "We are not targeting the ship or its sailors. We just consider this a dirty sponsor for such a beautiful sport." He promises further protests when Le Dfi leaves France and on its arrival in Auckland in September. Just wait until the racing starts.

Downhill Race
While the Giro d'Italia came to a sprint finish in Milan on Sunday there was one thing the race still couldn't seem to shake: the annual drug scandal. Although not on the same scale as last year, when 200 police raided the cyclists' hotel rooms seizing large quantities of medicines, it doesn't bode well for cycling's showcase, the Tour de France, next month. Last week police visited the hotel rooms of four teams taking part in the Italian race after a succession of riders were ejected after failing drug tests. Some were arrested as part of a wider investigation. None of the three pre-race Italian favorites made it to the finish line: 2000 winner Stefano Garzelli tested positive for a banned diuretic and last year's winner Gilberto Simoni for cocaine. Francesco Casagrande didn't take any drugs but could have done with a sedative — he was expelled after a sprint tussle left a fellow rider lying in the road with facial injuries.

A Cagey Game
With 2002 viewing figures expected to beat 1998's 33.4 billion, the World Cup is a tide that floats the boat of many advertisers who, like Nike, do not even sponsor the competition. Adidas, an official sponsor, is the leader in the soccer goods market and happily promotes the familiar values of teamwork in its advertising. Nike's campaign, condemned by the governing body FIFA as "ambush marketing," is trying instead to reinvent soccer.

Scorpion Knockout is the futuristic, pared-down game played by 24 stars like Thierry Henry, Luis Figo and Fredrik Ljungberg in an expensive — reportedly $14.5 million — three-minute commercial that has been airing since April. In the ad, to a thumping remix of Elvis Presley's A Little Less Conversation (A Little More Action), soccer's leading mercenaries compete in a secret tournament under special rules. In it, soccer becomes a game of trick shots, small goals and fancy footwork — oddly like basketball (which, despite Nike's $155 million spend this year on soccer endorsements, remains its best revenue source). This month in London's Millennium Dome and 12 cities from Beijing to Buenos Aires, an estimated 1 million youngsters are going into the 9-m-by-24 m cages to play Scorpion KO. Rules: three-on-three, three minutes a game, first goal wins, no crying. Special equipment: maybe a pair of Nike's street soccer shoes, now hitting the stores.