Okay, it’s a typically alarmist headline, but not a million miles from what was said by Tom Ehman, Russell Coutts and an entourage of BMW ORACLE press and operations people in front of the press in Valencia yesterday. They were there to make 4 announcements. The conference coincided with a letter sent from GGYC to SNG following up on points that the parties have been arguing about in court. We are fairly sure that most of the internet commentators have not listened to the entire event. We have ignored the section devoted to ‘Louis Vuitton’ style events, because frankly at this stage they are a distraction.
While the letter sent from GGYC to SNG was full of legal pedantry, the press conference had a lighter PR spin feel. The result was the usual explosion of hate and mistrust from the internet with opinion split along party lines. The America’s Cup seems like a small oil-rich country being fought over by armies with completely different faiths. Ultimately the event itself, once widely seen as the pinnacle of the sport is becoming more tarnished every day.
While BMW ORACLE’s announcements were delivered in a calm, friendly tone, there were some controversial points. The American team still seem to use the Deed of Gift when it suits them, and ignore it in other places where it is better for the cup to do so. Some see this strategy as making BMW ORACLE look reasonable while making Alinghi look like the bad guys. Others see it as a cynical PR exercise – a good cop bad cop routine that presents a friendly face to the media while keeping the highly trained lawyers looking for more and more loopholes.
So what were the announcements?
- That AC33, the DOG match be raced in Valencia in February.
- That AC34, (should BMW ORACLE win) be raced in Valencia.
- That ISAF be appointed mediator to prevent more court appearances.
- That Groupama 3 will be using the Valencia base.
Annoucement 1 is no surprise and no change to BMW ORACLE’s stated position. They reitereated that their interpretation of the courts order was to race in Valencia or a southern hemisphere venue. The maddening thing is that the court’s ruling still leaves wiggle room over what is a venue allowed by the Deed of gift. Alinghi are trying to be mysterious about it. They don’t have to announce the venue until 6 months before the date, but they don’t have many choices.
The presentation was civil, but during questioning, Coutts did have a dig at Alinghi boss Ernesto Bertarelli saying “Bertarelli has stated that no matter what, the venue would be Valencia and I am sure he is a man of his word.”
More controversial perhaps is BMW ORACLE’s position that if they ‘are lucky enough’ to win AC33 that they intend to hold AC34 in Valencia. Perhaps appealing to the local press, the American team’s argument is that announcing a venue now gives certainty to other challengers, but it is a massive slap in the face to American fans. It is one thing for a landlocked country to hold a race nearby, it is quite another for the Golden Gate Yacht Club to defend the Cup on a different continent.
BMW ORACLE when questioned said that they have given commitments to officials in Spain to hold the cup in Valencia should they prevail. While the nature of the cup changes all the time, this would end the idea that a yacht club competed to bring the cup ‘home’. One of the motivations to win the America’s Cup is to bring the event, media rights, infrastructure and tourists to your home country. It is incredible to imagine this statement coming from an American yacht club.
As a consolation prize to the country that held the cup for 132 years, BMW ORACLE will name the boat they use in AC33 – USA.
BMW ORACLE stated yesterday that they are prepared to accept mediation. They suggest that ISAF be the adjudicator. This process would stop the two parties having to return to court over and over and over again. It’s a great gesture, but these parties have not managed to agree on anything and have ignored calls from past defenders to solve their difference, have failed to reach agreement with other mediators. We think that this isn’t going far enough, that the parties should both be forced into arbitration. Tom Ehman highlighted the problem with this yesterday saying that the court cannot force mediation.
While the deed of gift is not a perfect document, it was never supposed to be. The addition of ‘mutual consent’ clauses allows for anything, provided the defender and challenger act in a sportsmanlike manner. Rather than choose a side, we would accuse both parties of being equally guity of behaving in an unsportsmanlike manner. Unfortunately, the America’s Cup does not fall under the jurisdiction of a world governing body – as GGYC have told us over and over again – the ultimate juristiction for the Cup is the New York courts.
Ultimately, the quirks of the cup mean that it makes it very difficult to break the deadlocks. Team principals seem incapable of showing leadership, content to destroy all the brand equity built by a widely acknowledged successful AC32. It’s not over yet which is dissapointing for all concerned.