Paul Lewis: Sportsmanship lost at sea

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The accusation by Artemis boss Paul Cayard that Team New Zealand's actions are unsportsmanlike is debatable. Photo / AP
The accusation by Artemis boss Paul Cayard that Team New Zealand's actions are unsportsmanlike is debatable. Photo / AP

Unsportsmanlike? Paul Cayard, the head of the Artemis America's Cup syndicate, must have had a bit of a brain fade when he called Emirates Team New Zealand unsportsmanlike this week.

They've been so unsportsmanlike that they - and holders Oracle - have been helping Artemis with re-jigging the structure of their new AC72 catamaran. Team NZ and Oracle have given the Swedish syndicate, stricken by the death of crewman Andrew Simpson in that horror capsize, information which would normally remain private.

Load limit and structural testing details have been shared, helping the Swedish syndicate correct whatever structural problems may have been at fault in the capsize.

I'd call that sportsmanlike, Mr Cayard. So is turning up to compete. The Artemis boss protested after a story in the Herald on Sunday, quoting Emirates Team NZ head Grant Dalton, told how Artemis had vetoed a proposal to start the Louis Vuitton regatta later (July 19 instead of July 4). That gave Artemis more time to get to the starting line.

The quid pro quo was that there would be no semifinals.

But Cayard said: "Dalton's proposals to change the race would certainly not help Artemis Racing, as suggested, but make it even harder for us to compete.

"To shorten an already tight timeline is clearly not acceptable to us, as to any team in the same position. Dalton's proposals benefit no team but his own and his public insults are out of line and unsportsmanlike."

No one can forget that a man has lost his life. That must sit above all other considerations. Moves can be made (and they are ...) to ensure that no others are lost.

But that's not really what we are seeing in the America's Cup now. What we are seeing is political moves behind the scenes to advantage self. It's a game being played by all contestants, including Oracle, who have been massively silent in recent weeks but who are working busily behind the scenes.

Here's the lay of the land as far as we can see:

• Italian syndicate Luna Rossa have a NZ-designed boat but are fearful they can't beat the Kiwis unless in light airs, hence their support for lower wind limits.

• Artemis can't beat anyone right now, pending structural alterations to their new boat. Their campaign has been a disaster. They have messed up their design, their boat build and their sailing. They have got rid of personnel (skipper Terry Hutchinson was fired, replaced by multihull specialists). But because Oracle's 72-foot, state-of-the-art, sailing-on-the-edge, expensive catamarans attracted so few challengers, Artemis can get away with holding up the regatta as Oracle desperately need them for credibility. If there were more challengers, they would be ruled out; unable to make the start line on time.

• Artemis are taking advantage of the waiving of the US$100,000 fine for missing a race. They now don't need to turn up at the Louis Vuitton start line until the August 6 semifinal against the loser of Team New Zealand and Luna Rossa. By doing so, they don't risk being knocked out in the three-way round-robin.

• ETNZ have the best boat in strong winds. While everyone now agrees Oracle's old upper limit of 33 knots of wind was dangerous, Team NZ designed their boat for heavier winds, as Oracle's rules effectively decreed, building a heavier and stronger (and safer) platform.

• Oracle have configured their boat for the lighter airs prevalent in San Francisco in September, when the Cup match is held between the winner of the Louis Vuitton and the holder.

So that's the real layout of the battleground, behind all the PR puff. Safety recommendations have been made dropping the wind limits. Team NZ have gone along with this even though it theoretically helps negate one of their strengths.

There are now moves being made, America's Cup sources tell us, to have racing called off if the wind even gusts above the agreed limit during a race; other moves propose to change the way the wind is being measured, effectively dropping wind limits lower. Oracle are apparently mooting further drops in windspeed limits. Spot the self-interest?

Team New Zealand have spent something like $100 million-$120 million, including taxpayers' money, building a boat under one set of rules. Now they are facing changes to the changes which may not be about safety at all but about eating away at a perceived advantage they hold.

The Kiwis have self-interest too, of course, though it is possible to feel a bit of non-nationalistic sympathy for a syndicate being penalised for applying the rules too well and being ready to race.

It's where Dalton's "insult" (according to Cayard), comparing Artemis to Namibia delaying a Rugby World Cup because they had a few injuries, came from.

Artemis, with the July 19 proposal, were being asked to do no more than they signed up for in the first place - sail in a round robin. What's unsportsmanlike about helping them to turn up?

The America's Cup mediation process/jury now has to sort this mess out. If we are talking unsportsmanlike behaviour, let's look at an opinion offered on Facebook by Cory Friedman, an American lawyer and yachting analyst who did a lot of media commentary on the Oracle-Alinghi court case which set up the Cup match, resulting in Oracle winning the Cup in the first place.

He said: "The 'favourable reputation' of the event is being destroyed by the Challenger of Record (Artemis) which are turning the whole thing into the most grossly mismanaged farce in the history of sport. They are the ones which should be sanctioned under this rule. Does anyone really believe that solo voyaging around the marks because Artemis can't build a seaworthy boat that won't fold in half and drown its sailors like filling trapped in a submerge(d) taco won't spur gales of derision from the general press and public?

"If Artemis had the slightest clue about sportsmanship (what a bunch of snivelling whiners) it should do what is best for the majority of challengers and, if it can't cut the mustard, let the others get on with it. No other sport would allow this nonsense."

- Herald on Sunday

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