Ellison the good guy?
July 21, 2007, 12:48 pm
Filed under: America's Cup, Diary, Tosh

If it wasn’t serious it would be funny. The Golden Gate Yacht Club versus the Société Nautique de Géneve? That is what is on the documents presented to the New York Supreme Court, but this is a battle of two billionaires, both at times characterised as billionaire brats, with the unlikely side-effect of the San Francisco-based Larry Ellison, boss of the Oracle America’s Cup challenge, grabbing the white stetson of the good guy and planting the black hat of the villain firmly on the head of Switzerland’s Ernesto Bertarelli, boss of the Alinghi syndicate which has just successfully defended the cup in Valencia.

As the Spanish city prepares to announce that it will host America’s Cup 33 in July of 2009, its mayor, the recently -re-elected, irrepressible, baritone-voiced Rita Barbera, must be hoping that there is a penalty clause written into a contract worth over €100m if Alinghi and its unloved executive arm, America’s Cup Management, fails to deliver.

 There was near-universal condemnation of the terms of the protocol for the next event when it was announced a couple of days after Alinghi beat Team New Zealand 5-2 in early July of 2007. The Spanish press ripped into its national federation for being not just raped but dropping its own trousers and obligingly standing with its legs apart in agreeing to the terms which Alinghi and ACM had demanded.

Most of the rest of the challengers were wringing their hands – though it is clear that the South Africans are equally willing to do Alinghi’s bidding, the Chinese have other fish to fry, and the British Origin team is standing back in case a mediator is needed.

So a meeting  was held in Valencia which included some of the big hitters like Patrizio Bertelli of Prada/Luna Rossa, Grant Dalton and Jim Farmer of TNZ, Dawn Riley of Areva, Alessandra Pandarese representing Vincenzo Onorato’s Mascalzone Latino, Tom Ehman for Ellison and the Germans. But, instead of just saying ‘what can we do’, a stiff letter drafted by Bertelli’s Spanish lawyer Luis Sainz was tweaked, approved and sent to both the Club Nautico Espanol de Vela, Berterelli’s collaborators, and the SNG.

What Ehman did not tell the meeting was that GGYC was intending to lodge a second challenge, under the terms of the third Deed of Gift which govern the running of the event. This is the 1887 version and is in the jurisdiction of the New York Supreme Court, having been lodged there by the New York Yacht Club.

A delegation duly flew to Geneva, a local legal processor accompanied them to the SNG clubhouse and handed the document to the secretary general (photographing the procedure) and went back to Valencia. The challenge was under the strict trerms of the 1887 Deed, specifying a yacht with a 90-foot load waterline length, a 90-foot beam (almost certainly a catamaran and, yes, design work is well underway) and in 10 months.

 There was no word from Alinghi, ACM or the SNG until the SNG announced it had also accpted a challenge from the Royal Cape Yacht Club on behalf of Shosholoza and under the terms of its latest protocol.

That was enough for Ellison, who then immediately instructed the law firm of Latham & Watkins to make its move. Not the San Diego office, which had acted in 1987 and ’88 on behalf of the San Diego Yacht Club in its fight against Michael Fay ahead of the big boat versus catamaran fiasco. This was the New York office operating on its own ground.

The acceptance of the South Africa challenge was manna from heaven for GGYC as it was clear evidence of a deliberate freezing out of Ellison and a hint that, even if the pressure on the CNEV to stand down was succesful, ACM had a second poodle on a lead. Whether that pressure has had any effect may be seen after a meeting on Thursday 26 July of the board of CNEV’s directors. Apparently the King of Spain is less than impressed, other Spanish yacht clubs are taking every opportunity to stick it to a CNEV that has yet to do anything other than try to organise an Optimist regatta in Santander, and is generally perceived to have been less macho than is acceptable to a nation that worships bullfighters.

Estimates are that it could take three to four months to extract a decision from the finest legal minds that New York has to offer (say October or November) and if it went GGYC’s way that would imply a 2008 cup in August/September with the first Valencia Formula 1 grand prix slated for October next year. It would also call into question the ability of the Swiss to put together the best boat, which would have to be designed, built and equipped only with materials available in Switzerland. Perhaps Andy Steiner could build the mast, and Décision could build the hulls, but winches, sailcloth and electronics would be more difficult.

SNG has 30 days to respond, that is by 19 August, and needs to juggle its relationship with Valencia with its feeling about how strong is its own position and how stubbornly it wants to keep total control. Ellison clearly wants to create enough leverage to shoehorn Bertarelli, however reluctantly, into negotiations. He would then be the white knight who wants to see an event board made up of two directors appointed by the challengers, two by the defender and those four able to appoints a fifth as chairman. He wants the appointment of people like jury members, event director and race officers to remain independent. And he will want to see the whole of the challenger programme returned to the challengers without Alinghi always crashing their party.

Meanwhile, the transfer season is still underway, even though the latest developments have had people keeping the caps on their pens until they see how things are going to run. Not least in the Oracle camp, where Russell Coutts is nearly in place, and in the Spanish camp, where Paul Cayard is an unhappy observer of what is happening and his long-time buddy Francesco de Angelis, who has parted company with Prada, does not like the way the CNEV has acted. 

G’day sport?
July 10, 2007, 1:27 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

Something over 30 years ago there was excited confidence that sailing was about to break into the big time of sports spectator consciousness as television would project it to a world just waiting to be turned on. And 0ver 30 years later, sailing is still struggling to conquer that craggy mountain.

There were some good moments from the latest America’s Cup, though the quality of the shots, especially onboard, was no better than in 1987, the onboard sound was, if anything, worse, and any audience figures you read should be taken with heaps of salty scepticism.  All sports television audience statistics are now highly skewed if they include China’s Channel 5, which claims a reach of 300m. Even in China, they can switch to other channels, so the potential audience and the actual audience are world apart.

Nevertheless, it was television that provided the spur to what is called the ‘medal race’ at Olympic regattas, where the top 10 take part for double points in the last race. That was because, formerly, a competitor or team could win with a race to spare, the tv guys would turn up for what was meant to be the climax, and the gold medal winner was sitting ashore already celebrating. So what?

Well, sport is no longer something which society finds valuable as a release from the pressures of everyday life. Sport is no longer sport, and sportsmanship is a concept so unrealistic and uncool as to be laughed at by those who excuse all of mankind’s worst characteristics as ‘the way of the world’.

Sport is a commercial platform, an exercise in branding and logo recognition, an opportunity to lush up guests in a corporate hospitality programme, and that means that the number of seconds some marketing director can count of his company’s exposure on television is more important than the game itself.

In the old days, sports photographers produced, apart from their war zone colleagues, some of the most dramatic pictures to be printed. Great picture, they would say to each other. Now, many publications are ready to save money by taking the free offerings from event organisers, competitors and their sponsors and public relations companies. Freelances just cannot make it pay. And the mutterings now as a picture is selected? Great branding, great branding. The photographers would not be allowed to send out pictures without the branding being the focal point.

And, just in case you might not be paying enough attention to the commerical message, then what used to be static advertising on perimeter billboards around a football or rugby pitch, have been turned into moving messages designed to do what? – drag your eye away from the game you wish to watch to the commerical message of some grubby little salesman.

 The people who pour their cash into sport as an advertising platform are not nice guys. That would come under the old heading of patronage. They want their pound of flesh and expect sports organisers to run around like headless chickens to ensure that there is ‘sponsor fulfilment’.

So it was that, on a day when it had been blowing 40 knots across the Bay of Cascais, and evening was approaching, that the first medal race, in the Star, a two-man keelboat designed nearly 100 years ago and noted for its fragile masts, was sent out in desperation 45 minutes before the 20.00 medal ceremony because the wind had dropped to 28 knots. It was, we were told, to provide ‘live’ television coverage and the additional expenditure of €3,600 for a helicopter was approved. When asked where this ‘live’ television was to be broadcast there were blank looks from senior officials before the admission that not a single television station in the world was taking the live feed. There were just a few screens around the marina in Cascais with 20 or so people in front of each.

When will these guys learn? The law that rules the world is written by Mr Sod and to challenge that is nearly suicidal. Sure enough, the hapless 10 were in all sorts of difficulties trying to protect their sails, rigs and good selves as the pump was turned back on, the wind speed increased and they all had to scurry home to safety.

Just another day at the office
July 9, 2007, 10:13 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

A valuable day ashore allowed the new female force in Britain’s Olympic sailing, the trio of Sarah Ayton and Sarah Webb with new team member Pippa Wilson, to savour their places at the head of the Yngling fleet at the world championships of sailing in Cascais yesterday.

The Sarahs have an 11-point cushion over Shirley Robertson, with whom they won gold at Athens in 2004, but who now has Annie Lush and Lucy Macgregor to try and make it a trio of golds next year.  

After three firsts and a second, Stevie Morrison and Ben Rhodes posted a fourth, a first and a fourth in the 49ers. That keeps them on top and well ahead of the Athens bronze medallists, Chris Draper and Simon Hiscocks.

A strong British squad, whose manager Stephen Park has set only a three-medal haul as a target but wants to see as many of the 11 classes as possible qualify for China next year, saw the 470 women Christina Bassadone and Saskia Clark sandwich two wins with a 13th and a ninth as Leigh McMillan and Will Howden lie fifth in the Tornado catamaran.

An eighth and a first not only qualified Britain’s Star class entry for Korea but kept Iain Percy and Andrew Simpson in third place going into Tuesday’s medal race for the top 10. Given this is only their second major regatta together – the first was in Miami – a podium finish would augur well for the new partnership.

And even with many fraces to go, Bryony Shaw has qualified Britain for the RS-X windsurfer slot at next yedar’s Games. 

The real deal
July 7, 2007, 4:22 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

After an amazing journey of 1,000kms west from Valencia via Madrid and an overnight in the magnificent 14th century castle parador hotel in Caceres there is a complete change of mood in Cascais, Portugal at the ISAF world championships of sailing. All 11 Olympic classes are holding their world championships concurrently over 10 days in a venue which not only bid to stage the recently-completed America’s Cup but which is still spitting tacks about the way in which it feels it was treated when the nod went to Valencia.

There are 1,390 competitors from 76 countries here, so, if you really want to know where your country stands in the pecking order of international sailing then this is it. Doubtless there is still a lot of commerical wheeling and dealing in the background and there will be all sorts of squabbles over who has the right to broadcast what and to whom. Sailing still thinks it has major appeal even on a weekend when the Wimbledon titles are being settled and the Formula 1 circus moves to Silverstone. More evangelism, please. 

 Still, where there is a buck to be made opinions are often sold cheaply, but the sailing retains its integrity and the cream always rises to the top. With Robert Scheidt more than challenging the legend-in-his-own-lifetime Torben Grael for the Brazilian slot in the Star class there may also be some validity to the argument that having what should be a breezy venue to decide 75 per cent.of the national qualification places for a Qingdao where the breeze could not often blow the skin off a rice pudding.

There was considerable apprehension when the first of these jamborees was staged near Cadiz and lots of financial support had to be found. Now the national delegations are lobbying ISAF for the right to stage the 2011 event, including one led by Alinghi coach and former America’s Cup skipper Peter Gilmour. But that would be Perth, up the river, not Fremantle, where the breeze and waves would be a major test for the dinghy bretheren.

One problem, apart from the unreliable communications structure and the erratic results service, is that the racing can continue until 21.00 which, for an event that wants to say it wishes to communicate with the world in a big way, is far better for the Americas or even the breakfast shows in the far East and Australasia.

Still it is a breath of fresh air after the fetid atmosphere in Valencia which became even worse when the protocol for the next event was unveiled. Control of the competitors and supposedly independent bodies like the race committee, jury and race officer were bad enough. The emasculation of challenger independence was also taken a painful stage further and the any semblance of fair competition brutally destroyed.

At the same time how must the poor German team feel about having recently applied for a sail number for a new boat without being told that a new design was round the corner? Well, perhaps not too bad as much of the qualification racing will be in the old version five boats we saw this time. Nevertheless, such sneaky secretiveness, while tank testing the new design themselves, hardly qualifies Alinghi for a sportsmanship award; and it means the challengers have to run two campaigns at once, one in the old boat while working up a second in the new design.

One man who is happy – and is sailing a Star for his home country, Argentina, in Cascais – is ABN Amro and BMW Oracle designer Juan Kouyoumdjian. He expects the new boat to be about 15 or 16 tonnes, as opposed to the 24 of the shorter 80-footer, knew that the tank testing in Canada was underway, and can look forward to being in demand again. So, at least the design race element of the America’s Cup continues and naturally he is happy about that. As for the rest, it is time someone found a way of reining in what the Italians are describing as the “military dictatorship” of Alinhgi and its wholly-owned subsidiary, America’s Cup Management. But don’t look to the world governing body. It cannot control its own sport from marauders.

All power corrupts
July 4, 2007, 11:16 am
Filed under: America's Cup, Tosh

At last it’s over and so it has begun. The America’s Cup always was like no other sports event but now it is to be so different as to be weird. In no other sport would even a governing body try to control the activities of the clubs that take part, never mind one individual control the affairs of all the competitors and charge them for making him money. But that is what is happening in the America’s Cup as America’s Cup Management, which is wholly owned by defence syndicate backer Ernesto Bertarelli, issues not only a new protocol for America’s Cup 33 but a participation agreement for the challenger syndicates that will handcuff them completely. What may be good is that the experiment with taking regattas to host ports around Europe was such a success that it will be expanded – though how much compulsion there will be or whether they will count for a seeding system is yet to be unveiled. What is for sure is that such a level of dictatorship has to be either very self-disciplined or be transparently vulnerable to outside influence.

All chilled out in Valencia
July 1, 2007, 3:55 pm
Filed under: America's Cup

The America’s Cup went into a two-day holding pattern, the Spanish royal family helicopter for Prince Felipe remained grounded in Madrid, elaborate prize-giving ceremonies were abruptly guillotined, hundreds and hundreds of bottles of Moet were left in the chiller and Grant Dalton was able to celebrate his 50th birthday without tears yesterday.
The seventh race of the best-of-nine, with the defender Alinghi sitting on match point at 4-2, was abandoned as the wind was so soft and variable that race officer Peter Reggio pulled the plug 45 minutes before the time limit.
Team New Zealand, of which Dalton is boss, lives to fight not just another day but two, as there is no racing scheduled for Monday. The forecast is much more optimistic for both Tuesday and Wednesday.
Both TNZ strategist Ray Davies and Alinghi design co-ordinator Grant Simmer said they were content. “We are happy with the decision and we’ve just got to get ready for Tuesday,” said Simmer, adding that the difference between winning and losing often came down to just a few metres of advantageous boat position.
“It’s probably good to have a little bit of a breather,” said Davies, who has seen his team lose three in a row.