America's Cup's most successful skipper answers back at comments from Alinghi's boss

Any thought that the dispute between two of the biggest names in the America’s Cup’s might be played out either in private, or behind the closed doors of a court room, have now been blown away.

First there was the news earlier in the summer when Coutts didn’t turn up to sail Alinghi at the Newport showcase regatta against BMW Oracle. Then came reports that Coutts had been sacked for ‘repeated violations of his duties’. A long silence followed from the Alinghi camp until this week when Ernesto Bertarelli went public with his version of events. His comments have infuriated Coutts who has now decided to strike back.

“Until now I have been very reluctant to enter into a public exchange, as we have begun an arbitration process in Switzerland where both parties are bound by confidentiality obligations and my strong preference is to have these matters dealt with properly in the appropriate forum,’ he says. “But over recent days as the level of personal attack appears to have increased I have decided I can no longer sit quietly and allow Ernesto Bertarelli to attack me publicly.

“I am looking at all my legal options. But I have to make it clear that I am astounded at the tone of the accusations and absolutely reject these claims. I am frankly appalled at the way Ernesto is attempting to rewrite history.

“Ernesto Bertarelli has sought to paint a picture of being surprised by my decision not to sail at Newport. But the fact is that I had informed him of my intention not to sail and my reasons for that decision both in writing and verbally well before the regatta.

“I originally entered into this campaign with Alinghi with a very high level of commitment. Contrary to his latest suggestions, our differences resulted from Ernesto’s management style and his failure to honour our contractual commitments. After our success in 2003 I had expected to continue to play a central role in team leadership and be fully informed and involved in all key decisions but this was denied me.”

This much at least has been known for some time, a few weeks ago in an interview with Yachting World Coutts made it clear that one of the main stumbling blocks was his role in the future team and the way that decisions were being made. But now it seems that there are several specific and new issues that are fanning the flames in this dispute.

Answering a number of comments made by Bertarelli in a Swiss magazine Coutts says, “I am stunned that Ernesto has seen fit to publicly refer to my salary and I believe it is an irresponsible way for an employer to behave.

“We mutually agreed my salary a long time ago which was similar to the amount agreed for our successful 2003 campaign. It is totally ridiculous to suggest that my salary was in any way comparable with those of top soccer stars.

“It is all the more surprising that Ernesto is making an issue of this now, in contradiction to his earlier insistence to media and others that money was not the issue behind our dispute.”

And then there’s the issue of motivation and the manner in which Coutts exited the team.

“It is also totally false for Ernesto to say that I had lost motivation and asked to resign – another incredible allegation he has repeated in several recent interviews. I would doubt that anyone who worked with me over three successful America’s Cup campaigns or on any of my other sailing projects would believe this. Ernesto doesn’t even appear to really believe it himself – if he did, he wouldn’t have changed the rules to lock me out of competing in 2007.

“What’s not widely understood is the fact that when Ernesto Bertarelli illegally terminated my employment, the restraint provisions in my contract ceased to apply. This explains why he instigated a new rule in the America’s Cup Protocol excluding me from participating in the competition only 10 days before he dismissed me. I object to being excluded and believe the new rule is unsportsmanlike, and, although clearly aimed at me, bad for sailing in general.

“It is also totally false for Ernesto to claim that I gave up my leadership role. In fact, following our win in 2003, he was the one who initiated a new management style and who increasingly began to make decisions on his own behalf. This was at odds with the decision-making processes and philosophies I had believed we would follow and which had proved so successful during the previous campaign.

“The facts are that I love the America’s Cup. I worked hard for Alinghi and I am proud of what we achieved as a team. I am trying to maintain a sense of appropriate behaviour, and avoid this sort of messy public exchange. However this latest outburst by Ernesto is a deliberate attempt to damage my reputation and I will continue to respond to such false claims in order to protect myself.

“I noted that in one interview Ernesto acknowledged an explicit link between his launching this attack and public opinion polls in Switzerland which have indicated a high level of public disapproval of his management of this issue and his retrospective changing of the rules.

“Frankly, I think his behaviour is becoming a bit demeaning – to himself, to me and to the sport we love.

“I find it amazing that we have been unable to resolve our differences in a private and professional manner and I look forward to having these issues dealt with properly in the appropriate forums. “

While the early intentions on both sides might have been to resolve this dispute in a discrete manner, that option seems to have now past with the America’s Cup living up to it’s reputation for messy and expensive disputes.