Yachting: Teams 'exploiting' dead sailor - Italian skipper

By Dana Johannsen, in San Francisco

Max Sirena of Luna Rossa says America's Cup rivals are shamefully exploiting sailor's death for their own gain

Team NZ and Luna Rossa say changes to rules on rudder elevators are more about race advantage than safety.
Team NZ and Luna Rossa say changes to rules on rudder elevators are more about race advantage than safety.

Luna Rossa skipper Max Sirena has unleashed a stunning broadside at America's Cup rivals Oracle and Artemis, describing their actions after British sailor Andrew Simpson's death as "shameful" and exploitative.

Sirena's angry outburst has brought the bitter feuding between teams back into the spotlight, with the imminent jury hearing on the issue of rudder modifications overshadowing the desperate efforts by America's Cup organisers to bring the focus back to the water on the eve of the opening ceremony.

But of more concern for officials will be the Italian team's intimations that they will boycott the event if the jury does not step in and prevent late changes to the design rule.

Both Team New Zealand and Luna Rossa have protested to the jury, challenging the authority of regatta director Iain Murray to alter the class rule as part of the new safety recommendations being introduced.

The two teams believe changes to the stipulations around rudder elevators are not in the interests of safety but rather to help Cup defenders Oracle foil more effectively.

In an interview with La Repubblica, a deeply upset Sirena said he was no longer willing to remain silent over what he sees as a blatant attempt by Oracle to use Simpson's tragic death as a means of skewing the rules in their favour.

"Profiteering. That's what it is, nothing else. I'm sorry to say because sailing is my life, my world, my sport. But we cannot continue to pretend that this is the America's Cup of the gentlemen, of fair play. It is not true at all. Oracle and Artemis are doing something illegal, shameful, and they are doing it by exploiting the death of 'Bart' Simpson, a sailor, a friend.

"They tell us that we are unsporting. [Artemis skipper] Iain Percy has said that and it hurt me a lot. Actually it is them who are exploiting the incident of Artemis to obtain advantages."

Sirena said his team would seriously consider pulling out of the event if the changes to the design rules are allowed to go through - a position supported by a statement put out yesterday by Luna Rossa.

"Luna Rossa is eager to race in the 34th America's Cup and be respectful of the rules governing it, but it will not accept any imposition contrary to the rules under which it has challenged," the statement read.

Despite Luna Rossa's hardball approach, Team New Zealand boss Grant Dalton said his team would accept the decision of the jury as final and talk of an Italian boycott "does not change anything we'd do".

Yesterday's bite back from the Italians comes after the America's Cup PR machine cranked into high gear at the weekend, with Murray insisting the changes to the design rule are essential to ensure the safety of the participants - an assertion Dalton describes as "completely incorrect".

But the bigger issue for Dalton is whether the regatta director has the authority to make arbitrary changes to the class rules.

The Protocol states that once signed off, any rule changes can be made only with mutual consent of the teams. But by including the 37 safety recommendations in his application to the coastguard for a marine event permit, Murray believes he can get around this as article 16 of the Protocol gives the regatta director the ability to make changes required to comply with local authorities.

"There's quite an important precedent involved in terms of the ability of the Protocol to hand all the power back to a race organisation, which in the end gets its pay cheque from the defender," said Dalton.

But Murray has been at pains to emphasise his organisation remains impartial. "I find it upsetting when people say these safety recommendations aren't for safety but to increase the performance of one team.

"The implication is that I'm doing this to favour Oracle Team USA ... Quite frankly, I find it insulting."

Rudder ruling

Q. Will the stand-off over the rules delay the start of racing?

No. The first race in the Louis Vuitton Cup between Team New Zealand and Luna Rossa is scheduled for July 8, with the jury hearing the next day.

Q. If ETNZ and LR are successful, could the event be cancelled given the Coastguard issued organisers a permit only on the proviso the 37 recommendations are adhered to?

It's seems highly unlikely that the marine event permit could be revoked on this issue, as it is not compulsory for the teams to use these rudder elevators. The recommendation only extends the rule to allow the use of symmetrical rudders - the inference being that anything within the specified range is therefore safe.

Q. What happens if ETNZ and LR lose?

Team NZ have said whatever the outcome, they will accept the jury's decision and get on with racing. Luna Rossa have suggested they will boycott the event if they don't get the ruling they want.

Q. What happens if LR decide to pack up and go home?

It would spell complete disaster for the event. There would be one challenger (although Artemis are still aiming to get back on the water in early August), some very angry sponsors and a red-faced Larry Ellison and Russell Coutts.

Q. Shouldn't ETNZ stand together with LR on this and play hardball?

As Team NZ are commercially and publicly funded, they answer to more stakeholders than Luna Rossa and don't have the luxury of being able to make such bold calls without lengthy consultation. In the end, Team NZ believe they have the boat to beat Oracle regardless of the rules, and the defenders' latest manoeuverings can be taken as an indication they still haven't found the right formula for foiling.

- NZ Herald

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