Paul Lewis on sport

Paul Lewis is the Herald on Sunday's Sport Editor

Paul Lewis: Oracle, you cheated, and that's not my fault

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A few people in the America's Cup need to take a cold dip in Lake Reality. Some are those in Oracle Team USA who are hitting the "spin" cycle in their PR handbooks.

Oracle's reaction to the jury's decisions on the cheating saga have been as over the top as they accuse the jury punishments of being.

Four team members have been excluded from the Cup, the team has been docked two points in the final against Emirates Team New Zealand and a US$250,000 fine has been levied for charity.

Sir Russell Coutts' reaction was to call it "outrageous" and "astounding", then blame New Zealand media - specifically me - for influencing the jury. The offending Herald on Sunday column quoted said Oracle should be booted out of their own regatta.

The quote conveniently left out the next bit - that it wouldn't happen for many practical reasons.

But, ethically, the column said, Oracle should go if they were found to have cheated.

This is the America's Cup and a certain amount of posturing is expected, almost mandatory. But the Cup jury members are not a group of puzzled old darlings pulled in off the street, as Horace Rumpole used to say.

They have vast experience in legal and quasi-legal matters and they know even more about yachting. In comparison, I could write my extensive knowledge of yachting of the end of an ant's fingernail.

As well, none of the jury would know who I was if I stood up in their bath (with apologies to jury member Josje Hofland who I am sure would be horrified if I did, in fact, stand up in her bath).

Blaming the media is an old trick. Oracle have been busily working the phones, getting in the ear of journalists they know they can influence. Fair enough. It's a legitimate tactic, rallying the troops around the "American" team.

This was happening even before the jury delivered their verdict. Take a look at this from an unnamed scribe on the San Francisco Sentinel, xenophobically accusing Kiwis of celebrating too soon (there is precious little to celebrate in this tawdry tale, mate).

" ... the New Zealand team, and the media down-under, have gone "John Bull Mad" over the alleged scandal and created such an ugly scene they have brought disrepute on themselves as much as Team USA. It's embarrassing to read the 'homer' news copy from the Kiwis.

"The NZ media's fawning stories about the 'cheating scandal' and how it has harmed the sport are hogwash. The America's Cup is always controversial and the Kiwis' namby-pamby media patter has made the entire sport look amateurish, low-class and soft. The jury should make its decision and it should be fair and square - something that it has not been so far with leaks from the jury and other questionable allegations making their way into the media ... if no harm and no impact was had on the America's Cup race itself, why should any of the sailors or Team USA be penalised? Really?"

This has got more Oracle fingerprints on it than the handles the grinders use. There's just one little thing. Who made these rules? Why, that'd be those Oracle fellas.

They stipulated that the America's Cup World Series, starring the AC45s (the boats that were doctored) was part of the America's Cup, covered by the same rules. It's not as if it's a different event. It's the same event - according to Oracle's own rules.

Unfortunately, this ploy has sucked in a lot of people. Even the New Zealand Herald carried a piece this week saying; "This is like forcing a Melbourne Cup jockey to discard his whip because of a track work incident" (No, it isn't - it's cheating) "or getting Mike Tyson to fight one-handed for yelling at one of his pigeons" (No, it isn't, it's cheating). Who cares what happened in a convenient invention called the America's Cup World Series and who even needs an America's Cup World Series? The cup combatants are either in or out. Racing must start at nil-all."

But what about cheating? Should cheats be allowed to start with no penalty or should they be ejected, with the almost certain reaction to be no racing at all and probably a vicious legal battle?

This is all part of the great game of the America's Cup, but it masks an unpalatable truth. The Cup has been on a downward slide through Oracle's tenure. Their 2 year courtroom drama with Alinghi cost the Cup a lot of fans; they saw it as a billionaire's plaything, with teams of lawyers, not sailors.

This regatta has been a bit of a disaster. The America's Cup badly needs an era of health and vitality. This is not to say it has to be held in New Zealand, though the last regatta there had plenty of challengers, months of racing and no deaths.

If Oracle successfully defend the Cup, I am sure the next one will be very different from this one. Keep all the politics and the jousting. That's all part of the great game. But, if it doesn't work out and it comes back to bite you on the barnacles, please don't blame the media.

- Herald on Sunday

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