Paul Lewis on sport

Paul Lewis is the Herald on Sunday's Sport Editor

Paul Lewis: To outside world, it makes no sense

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Photo / Guilain Grenier
Photo / Guilain Grenier

The saddest thing about the cheating allegations being decided upon by the America's Cup international jury is that few people outside the sailing community really understand them.

Because the alleged offences took place in the AC45s, the 45-foot catamarans used in the warm-up regattas, the America's Cup World Series, many seem to figure it isn't really the America's Cup - not realising it is covered by the same rules and responsibilities.

They also don't fully understand the premium sailors place on the rules; this is such a complicated sport - perhaps the most governed sport in existence - that cheating is abhorrent. It's a little like golf - there is a heavy reliance on sailors to respect the rules and stick to them. Sailors maybe don't call penalties on themselves as golfers do, but the sports are closely aligned in terms of their onus on honesty and dislike of a cheat.

Which is not to say cheating doesn't happen in yachting. It occurs in plenty of regattas.

There are a lot of intensely competitive, driven sailors out there.

That's why a lot of regattas use one-design yachts (translation: they are identical and, to prevent tampering of the sort that Oracle Team USA are being accused of, they are rotated among competitors so no one can add a little something here or there).

But this is the America's Cup. It's the pinnacle of the sport, with a 162-year-old tradition; it provides a major living for many of the world's premier yachtsmen. It is a fascinating mix of technology, design, hard work, commercial interests, politics and the centuries-old art of sailing.

The international jury are in a tough place. What they should do, really, is boot Oracle out of their own regatta.

They are unlikely to do that. The Cup would pass automatically to Emirates Team NZ and would not be fought out on the water. There are all sorts of commercial, sponsor and contractural realities that will likely prevent that.

Ethically, that's what should happen. It was cheating. Deliberate or accidental; institutional or the act of rogue elements - it doesn't matter. It's cheating.

OTUSA have been clever in their handling of this. They invoked the old public relations tactic of getting on the front foot. They admitted that lead weights had been found in OTUSA's AC45s, one of which won the World Series.

But it wasn't a big deal; it didn't affect their boat performance, they said (many disagree), and they retrospectively withdrew their boats from the ACWS. That played on the public and media ignorance. No big deal, it was all over, nothing to see here ... attention turned elsewhere.

Later, when further evidence was found on Oracle AC45s, the technical complexity of what was found made it difficult to express to a wider audience.

The difference was this: A bag of lead weights in different yachts could have been a one-off. The second find was a modification to a kingpost that had to be planned, designed, built and then installed.

The chances of this being known to OTUSA team members on a wider - and higher - plane is much higher.

That's why most of the betting is that Oracle will lose some team members. The gossip is that at least one will be a member of the team's premier afterguard. There is also a wide body of opinion that they will be docked points.

However, there is a wider consideration. At every America's Cup regatta, at least one headline is about how the Cup is dying.

The America's Cup has survived 162 years and it will survive this too. But this could well be the beginning of the end of the Cup unless the jury find the right balance.

There is an old saying: cheats never prosper. Of course they do. It's been proven many times, including in sport. Who can forget the provocative picture multi-millionaire Lance Armstrong tweeted of himself reclining in a couch while admiring his seven, framed, yellow Tour de France jerseys under the heading: "Back in Austin, just layin' around ..."

There have been many more examples and sailing, if it is not careful, could be on the slippery slope to where road cycling is lying now - at the bottom of the credibility pile, with a crumpled front wheel and a cracked helmet.

Which is why I say: Oracle Team USA have to go. They almost certainly won't. But they should.

- Herald on Sunday

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