It’s been a tough year for the America’s Cup, particularly considering that the event hasn’t even begun yet. In fact, the start of the first race is still six months away. Nonetheless, the news swirling around this, the most high-profile of sailing competitions, remains peppered with negative items, and it’s been that way for months. First there were the breakdowns. Nothing too serious, but a keel did come off down in Auckland, and several masts tumbled down unexpectedly. Perhaps that’s the price of technological innovation in such a high-stakes game. But then there were (and continue to be) the political squabbles, plaguing the event from the courtrooms of Seattle to the tabloids of Paris. Despite all the electronic and old-fashioned ink that this superstar arena continues to get almost daily, most sailors don’t really know the truth about what’s going on behind the scenes in the America’s Cup. So SailNet decided to dedicate its ample editorial energies to peeling back the layers and revealing what’s really happening among the various syndicates that are plotting and practicing in anticipation of the Auld Mug action, which begins in earnest in October.
Worlds Divided Chief among the scandals that have tainted this vaunted realm are the accusations of impropriety and allegations of spying and cheating that have been hurled back and forth between former Team New Zealand rules expert Sean Reeves and Craig McCaw’s Seattle-based OneWorld Challenge. OneWorld officials allege that Reeves broke the law by bringing over trade secrets from his former employer (and attempting to sell them) when he briefly worked for the Seattle syndicate after the conclusion of the 2000 America’s Cup. And Reeves has retaliated by naming former Team New Zealand personnel (who he helped recruit for OneWorld) as the source of these shared secrets.
Though OneWorld has taken the battle to court, where the case is now pending, SailNet has learned of a new development. According to sources close to both Reese and McCaw, the Fox Entertainment Network has stepped in and seized the opportunity to resolve this debacle by staging yet another televised blockbuster—a sailing celebrity dust up. Producers at Fox say they’ve secured commitments from Reeves and OneWorld’s sailing director Peter Gilmour to don boxing gloves and go at it in a specially designed floating ring that will be set up in Auckland’s Viaduct Basin. Reportedly, also on the card is a bout between the Swiss-based Alinghi syndicate’s skipper Russell Coutts and his former Team New Zealand cronie Tom Schnackenberg. There’s also been talk of Brits Ellen MacArthur and Tracy Edwards being added to the card to pump up international appeal and ratings potential. Watch your local news sources for broadcast times.
French Fireworks As if celebrity spats weren’t bad enough, there’s also the fuss over nuclear power. That’s right. When European nuclear giant Areva signed on to sponsor the French America’s Cup Challenge last year—Le Defi Francaise—for $15 million, both parties knew that the move would attract some criticism. Areva’s officials have tried to distance the conglomerate from the history of one of its subsidiaries, which 17 years ago created environmental damage during nuclear tests in nearby Mururoa and allegedly bombed Greenpeace’s flag ship the Rainbow Warrior
in Auckland’s harbor. One person died in the latter incident, and despite Areva’s best PR
efforts, it appears that the taint is indelible.
The New Zealand government, long an opponent of nuclear weapons, finds itself in a precarious position. It would like to host a successful event and keep the many corporate sponsors happy, yet not at the expense of agitating the environmental community, who along with Greenpeace staffers have jumped into the fray decrying Areva’s involvement in the Cup proceedings. Collectively, these groups claim that they have nothing against the America’s Cup, but say they oppose the concept of a major sporting event being "used by the nuclear industry to promote and sanitize its dirty business." So what’s a host country to do?
SailNet has learned that the New Zealand government has opted not to meddle in the event, however, legislators in Auckland’s Parliament House have drawn up and ratified a bill mandating that all French-based America’s Cup challengers post an additional, non-refundable bond of $15 million for participation. Evidently the interest generated by the bond will be turned over to an unnamed environmental action group. So how did Le Defi Francaise respond to this news? Well, we couldn’t publish that on a family-oriented website, but for specific details, log on to www.heyit'stheamerica’scupwheremoneytalks&controversyrules.com.
Doubting the Oracle? Sometimes it’s the least anticipated strategies that give you the upper hand. Well at least that appears to be the thinking within the technology heavy Oracle Racing Team. First the group, which is underwritten by software billionaire Larry Ellison and is reportedly operating with one of the largest budgets among the nine challenger syndicates (US $80 million), announced that it was dismissing three-time America’s Cup campaigner and sailing legend Paul Cayard from active duty (his status with the team is still undefined). Then the team sidelined veteran America’s Cupper Chris Dickson. Shortly afterward, the powers that be within Oracle Racing (read Oracle CEO Larry Ellison) signed on Dutch sailor Roy Heiner, who only months before had been dismissed from Volvo Ocean Race entry Team SEB
for a sub-par performance. So just what is going on, you might well ask?
Well, it appears that Ellison likes to keep the competition guessing. From the outset, many pundits feared that Oracle Racing might suffer from a top-heavy program with many more chiefs than Indians on the roster. But just days ago word leaked out from the syndicate that Ellison had also taken himself out of the program. Evidently he’ll still sign the checks, but won’t sail on board unless "it becomes absolutely critical." Sources at Oracle Racing say that the on-the-water activities are now in the hands of helmsman Peter Holmberg, tactician John Cutler, and a behind-the-scenes personality called Elmo. Nice move, we say. Wouldn’t it be interesting to see Cayard, Dickson, and Ellison pop up from down below as Oracles's boat was being towed out to the first race of the Louis Vuitton Cup series in October?
Now if all of this isn’t perplexing enough for the America’s Cupphile, it appears that the City of Auckland is reconsidering its support of the event. News came just this week that administrators in the self-acclaimed City of Sails had cut $25,000 out of the parade and events budget for the Cup festivities. But the city isn't the only group in Auckland finding itself short on funds. Representatives of the defending syndicate, Team New Zealand, have been singing the fund-raising blues ever since the end of the 2000 Cup races. Now, it seems, the team has hit upon a new scheme for generating the much need dollars to put up a successful defense. The team's merchandisers have developed a series of bobblehead dolls bearing a likeness to former Team New Zealander afterguard members Russell Coutts and Brad Butterworth. Reportedly the dolls, which come with a wooden mallet for the buyer to vent his or her frustrations, will be a popular item in Auckland shops. The strange just keeps getting stranger. What can you say? That's life in the America's Cup.
A Broader Perspective on Sailing by SailNet
Life Beyond the Cup by Dan Dickison
Celebrating St. Patrick's Day by SailNet
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