Is it an irony that some of the most controversial aspects of the failed Protocol Alinghi and Ernesto Bertarelli tried to implement with the help of their sinister bedfellows of the Spanish Sailing Federation are now part of the America’s Cup Protocol? Is it a coincidence that Larry Ellison and Russell Coutts that so vehemently criticized Alinghi are taking a leaf or so out of their book?
We don’t think so because this is, after all, the America’s Cup. The Defender has one and only goal, to retain sailing’s most coveted trophy and will use all means within its power to do so. That also includes using the same tricks others tried to use to stack the cards in their favor, despite having criticized them so strongly for doing so. As long as there is a Challenger of Record that signs off the rules and a number of willing billionaires to play the game, the rest is superfluous.
Now that the 35th America’s Cup Protocol is a few weeks old, we thought it would be interesting to take a trip down memory lane and reproduce some of the statements that were made during the acrimonious litigation between Alinghi and Oracle that lasted nearly 950 days! This is by no means a justification of the shenanigans Alinghi and the Spanish Sailing Federation used through a sham yacht club to create a Protocol that had some irrefutably unacceptable clauses that gave unprecedented powers to America’s Cup Management (ACM), the organizers hired by Alinghi. ACM could at its sole discretion and for any reason they deemed fit, disqualify any of the competing teams. Let alone the fact that Pombo and Chirivella, respectively President and Vice-President, tried to masquerade a weekend Optimist training camp as the CNEV’s “annual regatta” or later staged a farcical Sailing Tour of Spain, in their second attempt to satisfy the requirements set by the Deed of Gift.
However, it does put things into perspective and shows that the America’s Cup is more than a simple sailing race. Excellent PR skills are as important as good design and sailing skills. It probably shows that Ellison didn’t really fight for the “rights” of the Challengers. Why on earth would anyone fight for their right of his competitors? Ellison and his team fought to win the 33rd America’s Cup and win they did.
The photos from the 33rd and 34th America’s Cups are courtesy of Juerg Kaufmann and Daniel Forster, through their Go4image website. Click here to access what is probably the richest online America’s Cup photo gallery, dating back to 1977!
The Defender racing in the Challenger Selection Series
The most radical change in this edition of the world’s oldest sports trophy is, undoubtedly, the participation of the Defender in the Challenger Selection Series. It is something Ernesto Bertarelli tried to introduce in the doomed Protocol of the 33rd America’s Cup and met with fierce criticism and resistance from both BMW Oracle and Mascalzone Latino, then its staunchest ally and future Challenger of Record.
Not only is it a departure from tradition, it also gives the Defender an undeniable advantage as they are able to gauge the challengers and race against the yachts that will, eventually, be raced in the actual America’s Cup Match. Whether it’s fair or not, isn’t something we will judge here, however it was a point that, repeatedly, Oracle pointed out as unfair.
The Challenger Selection Series will not even exist as such in 2017, at least up to the semifinals, but instead a certainly American-inspired terminology is being used. In 2015 and 2016, all teams will take part in the America’s Cup World Series, similarly to the previous edition. Racing will be held, again, in AC45’s but the overall score will do count towards the later stages as the top finishers carry points into the 2017 races. The idea is again for this circuit to travel around the world.
A new concept is introduced this time, the America’s Cup “Qualifiers” which in reality are nothing more than the usual Louis Vuitton Cup Round Robin, with the obvious exception that Oracle Team USA will take part. No quarter finals are scheduled in 2017 and the top four challengers will then race in the America’s Cup “Playoffs” which until a few weeks ago were commonly known as the Louis Vuitton Cup semifinals and finals. All racing in 2017 will take place with the brand new AC62’s, so not only will the Defender take part up to the Challenger Selection semifinals they will be able to race against the one and only AC62 the challengers will have!
Here are just a few of the numerous statements Larry Ellison and the Oracle team published in 2007 and 2008, criticizing that same concept:
Larry Ellison in a letter to Ernesto Bertarelli, dated 17 November 2008, wrote: “You will say that, with only one boat per team, the Defender must be able to sail in the Challenger Selection Series. Fundamentally, we do not agree with this as there is a risk that the impact and suspense of the America’s Cup Match will be diluted. To have the Defender race in the Challenger Selection Series is a radical departure from the Cup’s long history and tradition and we need to be careful about making such changes.”
BMW Oracle press release, 16 September 2008: “Under Alinghi’s AC 33 protocol, the format and the schedule of all challenger racing is dictated by the defender for the first time in the history of the event. For the challengers in AC 33 it is therefore not “their” series any more as it was in all previous America’s Cups… However under the new protocol the defender’s ability to sail in the challengers’ series gives it very considerable new advantages. As they are already guaranteed a place in the America’s Cup, the defender can eliminate a team or influence the outcome of the series at no risk to themselves.
Before that, in October 2007, we had interviewed Alessandra Pandarese, legal counselor of Mascalzone Latino, and touched the issue of the alternative Protocol her team and BMW Oracle had prepared. Here’s our question and her answer:
Valencia Sailing: I also suppose that in your protocol the defender doesn’t have the right to take part in the Challenger Selection Series (CSS).
Alessandra Pandarese: That’s correct. Alinghi’s participation in the CSS is something we don’t accept.
It is true though that in the initial Protocol published by Alinghi, the Defender was to race up to the Challenger Selection finals, however we can’t understand why the “suspense” of the America’s Cup was in danger in 2007 and it won’t be from 2015 to 2017…
Date and Venue of the 35th America’s Cup
When Alinghi first issued their 33rd America’s Cup Protocol the date and venue, in addition to the boat rule, were not known. It was speculated that Valencia would again be the venue, probably in 2009, but that wasn’t reflected in the Protocol.
When the Golden Gate Yacht Club presented their surprise challenge, on July 11th, 2007, they stated that, “Furthermore, the race Protocol for the 33rd America’s Cup agreed to by the challenging yacht club CNEV and the defending SNG are invalid because they fail to specify the rules for the next competition by omitting a specific regatta date, location and class of boat. Without the basic elements of regatta venue, date and boat design rules as required by the Deed of Gift, the Alinghi Protocol provides no opportunity for a fair and equitable competition…”
Once again, the venue and date of the next America’s Cup still haven’t been decided but that doesn’t seem to be a problem. Not only that, for the first time ever, the “Qualifiers” (the CSS round robin) and the “Playoffs” (the CSS semis and finals) could, eventually, be held in different locations and just the top four challengers will got to the Playoffs.
The venue and dates of the Playoffs and the America’s Cup Match will be made public by the end of 2014 while for the Qualifiers, the Defender will have another month and a half, until February 15th, 2015, before it announces the date and venue.
Here’s another quote from the letter Larry Ellison had sent Ernesto Bertarelli on 17 November 2008: “As to the date of the next conventional Cup, this also should be agreed among all the teams, Challengers and Defender, by mutual consent. We would propose 2010 to get things back on track even sooner than the 2011 date we have seen floated in recent media reports by your side – unless 2010 is too soon now to allow teams, especially new or smaller teams, to get up to speed. Regardless, this can be decided by getting the teams together around one table as soon as possible.”
As per the 35th America’s Cup Protocol the venues and dates are at the sole discretion of the newly-created “Commercial Commissioner”, who is appointed and, eventually, replaced at the discretion of ACEA, which in turn is appointed solely by Golden Gate Yacht Club.
In a statement on November 13th, 2008, Tom Ehman, spokesperson of Golden Gate Yacht Club had stated that “for the first time ever, the Challenger Selection Series is under the complete control of the defender.” Doesn’t the same hold true this time? For the first time since the existence of multiple challengers, just the top four challengers will actually get to race in the America’s Cup venue! Isn’t that lopsided?
Why did Larry Ellison want to grant challengers such extensive rights in 2008 and denies them in 2014? Because he’s now running the America’s Cup, not challenging for it, and that’s what sets the America’s Cup apart from other events.