Larry Ellison confirms that Coutts will lead his Cup team for the next event. Matthew Sheahan reports
Since the spectacular exit of BMW Oracle, the speculation that Russell Coutts would join the team has been rife. Today, (Tuesday 24 July), the confirmation came direct from the horse’s mouth in a press conference held at the team base in Valencia.
The announcement confirmed that Coutts would head the team in its next challenge for the America’s Cup, except it wasn’t as simple as that. In between the upbeat announcement there were some serious provisos.
“Russell and I are both looking forward to competing in the next America’s Cup,” said Ellison. “But it is essential that the challengers act together to force Alinghi to agree to a fair and equitable protocol.”
“The existing protocol unreasonably favours the defender,” said Coutts. “There are numerous problems that have to be fixed, and they have to be fixed quickly so all the challengers can begin their boat design efforts and other aspects of their campaign.”
A press release issued after the conference stated;
The Golden Gate Yacht Club would like Alinghi to take the following actions:
First, a committee of challengers and Alinghi must mutually agree on a design rule for the boats that will race for the 33rd America’s Cup. The current Alinghi Protocol gives Alinghi sole control of the boat design rule for the 33rd America’s Cup. BMW ORACLE believes that Alinghi has been designing its new boat based on its new design rule for several months. “This head-start gives Alinghi a huge advantage over the challengers,” said Coutts.
Second, the race officials, umpires and jury must be completely independent and chosen by mutual agreement between the Challengers and the Defender. In the existing protocol Alinghi selects and manages the race officials, umpires and jury. All sports have neutral referees and officials. Alinghi’s control of these officials is unfair.
Third, any legitimate yacht club should be able to enter a team in the Challenger series to compete for the right to race Alinghi in the 33rd America’s Cup. Right now the Alinghi Protocol gives Alinghi sole discretion to throw out any challenger they don’t like for any reason. This is unfair and unacceptable.
There are other issues such as the need for a more equitable revenue sharing system to enable more countries to participate and low budget teams to be more competitive.
“The America’s Cup should be a fair yachting contest along the same lines that have proven to work well over recent years,” Coutts said.
Coutts said he had been delighted to accept the offer to join BMW ORACLE Racing as CEO.
“Taking up this new challenge gives me a leadership role with an outstanding team. I’m looking forward to building up a successful team. And I share Larry’s vision for close and exciting racing with neutral event management,” Coutts said.
“It will be great to be back in the Cup. I enjoyed watching the last event – but I look forward to getting back on the water.”
The last minute conference is another major step in what is becoming a fast moving and high-risk game between two of the richest players in the America’s Cup.
For Bertarelli, the risk of having the Spanish Challenge withdrawn must be a serious one, Ellison appears determined to throw some weight behind his case to redress what he sees as a serious imbalance in favour of the Defenders. If Ellison is successful, the Cup could be held in 90ft catamarans as soon as next summer. Add to this, some serious changes to the Protocol and Bertarelli’s grip on the event and the prospects of retaining the Cup could be seriously reduced.
For Ellison, if the Spanish Challenge is deemed to be valid, and Bertarelli gets his way, this American team’s participation led by Coutts in the next Cup looks shaky.
In the meantime, a major announcement, believed to be related to the venue and the possible schedule for the 33rd America’s Cup, will be made tomorrow (Wednesday).
We will be reporting the latest news as soon as it happens.