The announcement of the new Protocol for the 33rd America's Cup raises plenty of questions. Matthew Sheahan reports

You win the Cup, you make the rules. It’s simple.

Initially, today’s (Thursday 5 July) announcement of the Protocol governing the 33rd America’s Cup was about the new class of boat that will be used for the next America’s Cup. Bigger, faster, more athletic and more difficult to sail, according to Alinghi skipper Brad Butterworth.

The new boat will be 90ft LOA, have a lifting keel to reduce the draft from 6.5m to 4.1m, (the same draft as at present), to allow the boats to access ports. The boats will have 20-21 crew and it seems most likely that only one boat per team be allowed for this cycle of the Cup. The wind range that the boats will be designed to compete in will be 8-30 knots, a tall order for such powerful machines.

But, as the new Protocol was trawled through in more detail, other crucial changes and issues started to appear.

From the response of those sifting through the detail, it would appear that you can read the new document in two ways. One suggests that Alinghi has skewed the pitch even more.

‘ACM [America’s Cup Management] may, at its sole and entire discretion, accept or reject any entry received,’ reads note 4.4 when setting out the Acceptance of Challenging Competitors. Powerful stuff which can’t help but lead some to question how far and why ACM might consider excluding a Challenger.

Reserving the right for the Defender to sail in the Challengers’ selection trials right up until the semi final, is another major area of change.

Note 13.5 Trials and Challenger Selection format reads: ‘It may provide for the Defender an option to participate wholly or partly at its discretion in the Trials and Challenger selection other than the final between the two Challengers to select a Challenger for the Match.’

To have Alinghi sailing in the Challenger series raises all sorts of issues and marks another big step in what is proving to be an historic change in the America’s Cup in a dramatic season for the event.

During the press conference earlier today, Butterworth pointed to reducing costs as being one of the biggest influences in restricting teams to just one boat. While this might be the case, having no trial horse to tune up against could be a serious disadvantage for the Defenders, who under the old Protocol would only be able to line up against another of the new boats when they came to race the Challenger. Creating an opportunity for them to sail against the strongest competition in the Challenger series would help them to check in with current thinking and performance.

Elsewhere in the new document, the provision to have a minimum of 18 months between the issuing of a new class rule and the first event in new boats would appear to leave little time to run an event in 2007 if the rule wasn’t finalised until the end of this year. Until then, regattas will be run in the existing version 5 boats.

Here lies a particular sting in the tail for the United Internet Team Germany who recently announced having made the first lamination in their new boat, GER101. Note 14.3 (a) states, ‘a prohibition on the building of a new yacht that complies with or is intended to comply with ACC Rule Version 5.0 for use in qualifying regattas.’

The other way to look at the details of the document is that ACM are simply reserving the right to do whatever they want, precisely what winning the Cup means.

You win the Cup, you win the event, you make the rules – Simple.

Click here for the protocol for the 33rd America’s Cup