The downfall of the Americas Cup

Posted by jan-kees.mons

It is sad to see what the Americas Cup has evolved into. Rather than battling it out on the water, the 33rd Americas Cup has turned into a legal tug of war, fought out in Court. Sportsmanship and fair play seem to have long gone and sadly the outcome will contain only losers, including the eventual winner of the cup. That can be seen as a blow to the credibility of the Americas Cup (although it will survive) and the sport of sailing, something both syndicates can take the blame for.

The America’s Cup has always been one of sailing’s biggest traditions, a race between the sport’s best sailors sailing with the most advanced material and equipment. Hence there has always been a lot of money involved. The Americas Cup is the world’s oldest active trophy in international sport. It is a challenge-driven series of match races between two yachts which is governed by the Deed of Gift (a registered trust document in the Supreme Court of the State of New York). In the old days business tycoons from different continents battled it out on the water with some of the most magnificent ships one can imagine. In those days it was a gentlemen sport, where sportsmanship and fair play were the name of the game. No doubt Sir Thomas Lipton was one of the greatest figures in the history of the America’s Cup, challenging the cup 5 times. No wonder he is known as one of the world’s most graceful losers. Unfortunately times have changed and even sailing has become big business. The battle for the 33rd Americas Cup still lies in the hands of 2 big business tycoons. However, where sportsmanship reigned in the old days, this has now been replaced by mudslinging and courtcases. Sad for sailing indeed and even more for the Americas Cup.

Who are these two billionaire tycoons, with unprecedented egos? They are famous US software businessman Larry Ellison with his trimaran BMW Oracle and the Swiss biotech tycoon Ernesto Bertarelli with his catamaran Alinghi. Both gentlemen are not prepared to lose and will do everything to win the Cup, either on but preferably (as it appears) off the water in Court leading to some unprecedented (in sailing that is) legal wrestling. Too bad Thomas Lipton is not around anymore to teach them a lesson or two on how to deal gracefully with such matters. Alinghi is the defender of the Cup and hence is almost in complete control of the competition according to the Deed of Gift.

A brief summary. I realize many are fed up with the whole issue (they should skip the next section), but following is a brief summary on which issues these parties have been fighting:
1.Which club would be the Challenger of Record? Following the successful defense of the Cup in 2007, Societe Nautique de Geneve (SNG, Alinghi)) accepted a challenge for the 33rd Cup from Club Náutico Español de Vela (CNEV), a newly formed yacht club, created for the purpose of challenging for the Cup. However, the Golden Gate Yacht Club (GGYC, BMW Oracle) initiated legal action claiming CNEV did not meet the terms of the Deed of Gift as a legitimate yacht club. Simultaneously GGYC entered as a challenger for the Cup. After extensive litigation, GGYC became the official challenger.
2. Multi challenger format or not? In the end it was decided that there will be 3 races between GGYC’s BMW Oracle and SNG’s Alinghi 5
3. Dates and venue. Despite various attempts both parties could not agree on a date for the race. In the end the Court ruled that the race has to take place in February 2010. After this, the dispute went on regarding the venue of the race. SNG filed for Ras al-Khaimah in the Northern Hemisphere, GGYC immediately replying this was not in accordance with the Deed. In the end the Court decided the race to be held in Valencia, Spain.
4. Rules of the Match. Disagreements on issues such as measurements, powered winches, moveable ballast, rules during the race were by means of Court intervention finally decided upon.
5. The construction of the boats. The latest Court action in this ongoing saga comes from GGYC, claiming SNG’s sails are not constructed in the country where the competing yacht resides, which is not in accordance with the Deed of Gift. To be continued…..

No winners. Are you still there? This is sadly how the America’s Cup has evolved…….In the mean time both parties have arrived in Valencia where the races (the first to win two races will be the winner) are due to start on February 8, so in less than a month time. Clearly the pestering is going on, the latest being that the appointed infrastructure (marina) is not suitable for BMW Oracle and could create dangerous situations. Nevertheless if everything goes well, we should be done and over within a month time, when finally the battle will take place on the water. Whoever will be the winner of the Cup, it will be a Pyrrhic victory, in fact containing only losers; the two syndicates (think about brand values), the spectators (2-3 races only) and the sport of sailing, which has lost some of its credibility.

It is to hope that all involved parties will get to their senses for the next edition of the Americas Cup; in this perspective the Deed of Gift requires some revisions and questions should be asked what direction the Americas Cup should take. The Americas Cup has always been innovative as far as technology is concerned requiring huge investments. The danger exists that the Americas Cup would be caught in the same trap as Formula One did a few years ago; enormous budgets limiting the potential number of challengers and technology taking over from the sailormen (we do not want to end with unmanned yachts, do we?).

Hence action required! When looking back the 32nd edition of the Cup in 2007 has been great for all parties involved. A significant number of challengers with relatively similar equipment and some close racing. In the end that is what match racing should be all about!

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2 Responses to “The downfall of the Americas Cup”

  1. cnev Says:

    […] could mean the next America's Cup will be a duel between the two clubs involving multihull yachts.It's all about sports!! Blog Archive The downfall of the …However, the Golden Gate Yacht Club (GGYC, BMW Oracle) initiated legal action claiming CNEV did not […]

  2. jan-kees.mons Says:

    Sure, that could be a serious option and would be a blast! Also useful to attract young adults!

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