Outlook cloudy

America’s Cup 32 is in the record books. Team New Zealand were there in the finals for the fourth time in a row! Heavy favourites Alinghi won with a convincing score but less convincing performance. Two in a row for the Swiss team.

Five New Zealanders have been on the winning team in the last four Cups. I haven’t seen two boats as evenly matched all the way through the wind range in any America’s Cup or Louis Vuitton Cup. Ever. Either boat was capable of winning any race. Now the defender wants to change the class. Back to 5-0?

The event was a great success, in my opinion. The 32nd America’s Cup was the highest-profile event our sport has ever seen. Starting with the physical layout and size of Port America’s Cup, through to the hospitality at the Foredeck Club, the stadium racecourse right in front of the beach, and the fact that it was in Europe and within two hours’ flying for 330 million people. Also, as there is a profit-sharing scheme (similar to other recent Cups), teams should do well financially due to ACM’s shrewd business acumen.

It was hard to know who to cheer for in the final. The Kiwi underdogs were charming in their basic, low-profile way. I usually root for the underdog but if the Cup had gone to New Zealand it would not be as commercially valuable as if Alinghi won and it stayed in Europe. If the Cup went to New Zealand there would be half the teams competing, because sponsors would not be able to justify the investment for an event so far from Europe. The market for sailors, designers and shore teams would shrink and salaries

would be cut in half. That is the brutal economic truth.

So what is the plan for America’s Cup 33? Two days after Alinghi defended the Cup they released the Protocol for the next America’s Cup and confirmed that Desafío Español would be the Challenger of Record. The Protocol is the agreement signed between the defender and the first challenger accepted. It is binding upon all who challenge for the Cup as a condition of entry. So what does the new Protocol for AC 33 say?

Actually, not much of a specific nature. Alinghi gave us a range of possible dates, 2009-2011, named ‘Europe’ as the venue, and probably a new class of boat that will be defined by the end of this year unless there is good reason why it can’t be.

They also stated that they will make and can modify the rules… at their discretion. They said that the new class will be announced no less than 18 months before the first race. They then added that only Alinghi designers would create the new rule and that all others would be excluded from the process. This begs the question: how long before the rule is released will Alinghi start working on their design? Probably months because the process of drawing up the new rule will include a lot of research into what characteristics are needed to achieve the performance characteristics they are looking for…

Model testing, VPP and race analysis would be normal ‘work’ in producing a new rule; the same work you do once you know the rule you’re designing to. So in creating the rule themselves, Alinghi have given themselves six to eight months’ headstart in a design cycle that will last less than one year if they race in 2009 – as they say will be the case if Valencia is the venue.

I really do hate to say it, but the general feeling one gets in reading the Protocol is that of a stacked deck in favour of the defender… very possibly more so than ever.

A few excerpts from the new Protocol:

Article 4 Challenging Competitors – Notice of Entry. No date is given for when challenges will be accepted. ACM will define the conditions of challenge. No date is given for when these documents

will be available. Even after one complies with all the conditions, ACM throw this one at you… 4.4 states that ACM may, at their sole and entire discretion, accept or reject any entry received.

10 Competitors’ Commission. A competitors’ commission will be formed. Each challenger will have the right to two representatives on the commission. The commission shall have no right to make application to the jury or arbitration panel, no right to vote, no power to amend any documents. Pretty gutless?

11 The Competition. There may be qualifying regattas, Acts, similar to last time… which may be used to select and even eliminate some competitors. These qualifying regattas will be mandatory for all challengers.

13 The Regatta. The schedule will be announced by 31 December 2007 or at such later date as may be reasonably required. In no case shall the regatta be held prior to 2009 nor later than 2011. At the time the schedule is announced the regatta format will be confirmed. Presumably it will include the Challenger Series (previously the Louis Vuitton Cup) and the America’s Cup match.

13.5… specifically allows the defender to race in the challenger series up until the final! How would that be? You could have Alinghi in there throwing races to teams depending on who they want to see advance. Then they bow out for the finals and step back in for the Cup? This is very creative! So not only are the

challengers not running their own elimination series, they don’t have any say in how it is done. Further the defender is racing in it! That is a bit of evolution from my first days in the Cup. I am not even sure that this concept is in line with the Deed of Gift.

16.3 No nationality rules. This begins: ‘In accordance with past practice in the America’s Cup…’ This is insulting. Why do they try to make it seem like this rule, their preferred rule for nationality… NONE, has been in existence for many editions of the Cup? It is only since Alinghi modified this rule in 2003 that it has existed.

17.1 Competition Regulations. This includes essential components such as how many boats each team will be allowed to build, how many sails, testing and training restrictions, reconnaissance rules, number of support boats, basically the rules of the game. Never mind that these stipulations are not issued at this time. Once they do get issued they may be amended ‘from time to time’ by ACM. Remember that ACM is appointed by the defending yacht club, and that ACM is a company that is controlled by Bertarelli.

35 Resort to court is prohibited. No entity can make application to a court but rather must rely on the arbitration process in the Protocol. But nothing shall prevent the defender from making any application it considers in its sole discretion appropriate regarding the administration of the Deed of Gift.

Get the flavour? Read this all through and then revisit one of the very first clauses in the new Protocol:

2.3: Fair Competition. A competitor shall compete in compliance with recognised principles of sportsmanship and fair play (sic).

You will not be surprised that there is a fair degree of consternation around Valencia right now. Are we honestly going forward?

(The 33rd Cup Protocol is at americascup.com)