In a wide ranging and frank interview with the International Herald Tribune, Ernesto Bertarelli has answered questions relating to the Americas Cup. While there are some controversial points, there is also good reasoning behind many of the answers. Below are some of the questions and the answers:
IHT: Are you surprised that Larry Ellison and BMW Oracle have declined to drop the lawsuit and refused to meet your Dec. 15 deadline for entering the next Cup?
BERTARELLI: I’m disappointed. Larry Ellison’s argument is to say that the event is a phony and not fair and that the rules are not acceptable. Nevertheless, the rules are acceptable to 19 teams, some of which have had a pedigree in the America’s Cup much superior to his team. This is the most teams we’ve ever had, so we must have done something right in promoting the event and going about our vision for the America’s Cup and making sure there’s a lot of interest. He’s a little bit singled out at this stage.
IHT: You are only asking for a €50,000 deposit for the 2010 Cup. Obviously, there’s no guarantee that some of these teams that have entered are going to make it to the starting line.
BERTARELLI: The entry conditions are not substantially different to the previous edition. As for the number of teams, even if a few fall out, it’s plenty to have an amazing America’s Cup. Last time we had 11 challengers. All these teams this time are carefully considered and pretty serious. The other things we tried to do – and possibly it’s something not to the taste of Larry’s portfolio – is we tried to reduce the cost of competing significantly and obviously that opens up the competition quite a bit because all of the sudden you don’t need a budget north of $70 million to participate. I reckon this time with $20 million to $30 million you can win the America’s Cup. Last time when you were asking me the same question, I was saying anything south of $60 million or $70 million would not give you a chance.
So obviously if you have all the resources of this world, you want to make the competition as expensive as possible. That’s maybe what Larry does not like in the current rules. To qualify for the final of the Cup, he will have to race 18 challengers. This is excellent for the sport to have so many teams from so many countries.
IHT: Ellison continues to maintain that you are interested in rigging the rules to your advantage, so you can hang onto the Cup for as long as possible.
BERTARELLI: That can’t be true. I have proven that I have made everything possible to facilitate competition. Last time I even provided a significant bridge financing to Team New Zealand, which was the strongest team in 2003 and demonstrated again to be the strongest challenger in 2007. After Alinghi’s victory in 2003, we basically got them off the ground by lending them several million euros, so I think that’s the proof. I don’t need to say anymore. We have always facilitated and helped many teams find sponsors, get equipment. We sold one boat to Team Origin from England and another to the German team so that they got started. We provided masts and other equipment to many other teams that were starting or had trouble getting the equipment.
We again proved in Valencia this year that SUI 100, the boat we won the Cup with in 2007, had a significant advantage over other boats, and yet we’re dropping this type of boat and providing a level playing field for the next regatta with the introduction of a new class of boats. It’s one more demonstration of good will after another. You tell me what Larry has done for the Cup so far? He speaks of many concessions, and it’s all rhetoric because I can’t actually come up with one piece of concrete evidence that he’s done anything to help the sport or help resolve the conflict.
IHT: He says he is fighting for the future of the Cup, so you can’t just pick any old yacht club as challenger of record.
BERTARELLI: First, he should read the history of the America’s Cup to see that all sorts of yacht clubs have participated. One famous example is Michael Fay’s Kiwi Challenge, which was out of a yacht club whose clubhouse Michael was very proud to say was an old Cadillac on a deserted beach in New Zealand. Which I actually got to see when he invited me to his private island way back in 2001. The other thing, which is very interesting, is that the creation of the Spanish yacht club, CNEV, is a result of Larry’s request to transform the yacht club that was representing the Spanish team from the Spanish federation to the yacht club we created as he requested. The Spanish team, by the way, had better results in the last Cup than Larry’s team.
IHT: You speak of concessions, but Larry and his skipper Russell Coutts have revised their stand on you taking part in the challenger series. Initially, BMW Oracle was completely against that, but they have now agreed in principle based on certain concessions on your part.
BERTARELLI: The problem is if you reduce the budget and impose a one-boat campaign on everyone and impose a one-boat campaign on the defender as well, it would be really unfair to exclude us from the selection series. It’s like asking Roger Federer to defend his title in New York without playing a game in the tournament before the final. He would get crushed. We have to be allowed competitive sailing before the match. Otherwise we don’t have a chance to develop our boat and our team.
So it’s very easy for Larry to say, “We want to go back to the 32nd America’s Cup.” What he doesn’t say about his 32nd America’s Cup is that he spent $200 million on it. It’s just not sustainable. I think the reality is we have two different visions. Alinghi’s vision for the Cup is for it to be affordable and interesting from a competitive standpoint, because you have as many competitors as you possibly can and so far the list of currently entered teams is 19, which is the highest ever. This is the demonstration that our vision is the right one. Larry wants a one-on-one match with a 90 foot multihull. So he builds this massive multihull, goes to court and spends tens of millions of dollars in lawyers, and that’s his vision of the America’s Cup and he wants it his way or no way.
IHT: Coutts and BMW Oracle officials said they were not sent a copy of the protocol to examine before the entry deadline. I know you didn’t release it formally until later, but why did you not just send them something on paper to cover your bases?
BERTARELLI: Coutts and BMW Oracle know the protocol very well! They have entertained a number of discussions with many teams. It’s just rhetoric what they’re saying. You think one of the 19 teams didn’t give them the document? You think Mascalzone Latino, the team who is the best friend of Russell, who made an amicus brief for him, didn’t give him the information? That’s crazy. Russell had the protocol. Of course he had access to it. He wouldn’t have been able to make his 10 demands, which address specifically articles of the protocol, otherwise.
Keith Mills spent time with Larry and talked to him. Brad Butterworth, our skipper, talked many times with Russell. They can’t argue they don’t know. They can’t argue that they were not in a position of strength when they won in court the first time around and wanted to race us while they knew we could not build our boat in time. They can’t argue the teams represented now are not strong, teams that have had a lot more success than BMW Oracle has ever had in the Cup. There’s no argument left. They just don’t want to race strong teams on the water.