Team New Zealand should not enter the next America's Cup.
Considering the Kiwi syndicate's long association with the event, and how agonisingly close Dean Barker and his crew got to snatching the Auld Mug away from Oracle last September, that is not an easy statement to make. But scouring the 78-page document released yesterday outlining the rules for the next America's Cup, it is difficult to find a compelling reason for Emirates Team NZ to be involved.
The terms imposed by defenders Oracle Team USA are among the most self-serving rules that have been tabled in the 163-year history of the event. Team NZ, and the other potential challengers should not play any part in it.
The changes, while significant, do not come as a surprise. Many of the contentious proposals for the next event had been sign-posted by Oracle Team USA's billionaire owner, Larry Ellison, in an interview in March. At the time many of the challengers expressed their reservations about some of the new elements being proposed.
The issues raised were not simply petty nit-picking -- as can tend to happen in the America's Cup, where teams have been known to spend tens of thousands of dollars bickering over mere inches -- they were pointing out genuine flaws in the defenders' plans. The organisers do not appear to have listened to any of those concerns.
The biggest deterrent for challengers is the structure of the next event, which will be staged in four parts.
The first, the America's Cup world series, is similar to the format that was introduced in the lead-up to the last event, but the new plans will expand on that with (allegedly) more teams, more regular regattas and more host cities.
The series, to be held over 2015-16, will double as the qualifying rounds for the America's Cup proper as organisers look to move away from the centralised Louis Vuitton challenger series format that has been used for the past 30 years.
The world series will be sailed in the smaller one-design AC45 catamarans, before the teams move into the America's Cup qualifiers, which will be sailed in AC62 catamarans, designed and engineered by the individual teams.
The top four teams from the qualifiers will then move on to the America's Cup "playoffs", with the winner going on to face Oracle in the 35th America's Cup match.
The new set-up means the challengers will have to commit resources to designing, engineering and testing the new class of boat knowing there is a chance they may not even make it to the big show.
Those that do make it through to the playoffs will have to ensure they design a boat to meet the conditions of two potentially very different venues, with the timing of the America's Cup qualifiers suggesting a Southern Hemisphere venue, while the playoffs and Cup match will be held at a yet-to-be-determined venue in the US or Bermuda.
The defenders, meanwhile, have the luxury of being able to build and test two boats, insuring them against a catastrophic failure. How this rule got sign-off from the challenger of record is a mystery. Iain Murray, who heads Team Australia, the challenger of record, admitted there was a lot of "arguing" over this particular clause but hasn't offered any explanation as to how Oracle won the argument.
Given the defenders are quite comfortable to impose such blatantly self-serving rules, the challengers should leave Oracle to sail their two catamarans against themselves. The difficulty is once you're out of the game it's hard to get back in it. If Team NZ -- the longest-running America's Cup syndicate -- decide to pull the pin now, it could be the end of the team for good.
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