America's Cup: Oracle duo called to give evidence

By Paul Lewis in San Francisco

Oracle Team USA CEO Sir Russell Coutts and No. 1 skipper Jimmy Spithill are among those called to give evidence at an America's Cup international jury hearing. Photo / Getty Images.
Oracle Team USA CEO Sir Russell Coutts and No. 1 skipper Jimmy Spithill are among those called to give evidence at an America's Cup international jury hearing. Photo / Getty Images.

Oracle Team USA CEO Sir Russell Coutts and No. 1 skipper Jimmy Spithill are among those called to give evidence at an America's Cup international jury hearing on Saturday involving allegations of cheating.

The hearing has now been re-scheduled from Friday (NZT), a change flagged tonight by the jury who also published a list of those called to give evidence.

They included Coutts, Spithill, OTUSA general manager Grant Simmer, shore crew manager Mark 'Tugboat' Turner, rules advisor Richard Slater and rig team manager Andrew Henderson. Coutts and Turner are New Zealanders, the rest Australian. The chairman of the measurement committee, Nick Nicholson, has also been called to give evidence.

It must be pointed out that being called to give evidence is no evidence that those named are being accused of cheating. The jury has been inquiring deeply into the cheating allegations, interviewing 16 OTUSA members and five members of America's Cup Racing Management, the regatta organisers.

The cheating allegations involve OTUSA's AC45 catamarans used in the America's Cup World Series, a warm-up event to the America's Cup but which is sailed under the same rules. That means the cheating allegations could potentially be serious for OTUSA - leading to the expulsion of one or more members of the team and/or a penalty levied on the team. The penalty could range from a fine to being docked points or, at the unlikely harshest end of the spectrum, being banned from their own regatta.

The latter would hand the America's Cup to Emirates Team New Zealand though such an outcome is thought to be unlikely, with an outcome more likely to be in the nature of docking points - handing ETNZ a considerable advantage in the Cup match.

The allegations against OTUSA are being heard in two separate hearings - one under the banner of Rule 69 of the America's Cup rules of racing; it is aimed at discovering whether whether team members were guilty of gross misconduct. The other, under Article 60 of the America's Cup protocol, will assess whether OTUSA infringed as a team - with the latter now to be heard on Saturday and which potentially carries the sternest penalties.

It is understood that Coutts and Spithill have already given evidence at the Rule 69 hearing, though it's understood they did so in their executive capacities rather than as someone in whom gross misconduct was suspected.

If any sailors are banned from the regatta, it could signal the end of their professional career as the stain will make it difficult for them to find work. That will be especially so if the jury -providing they have found guilt - can refer the matter to the international sailing body ISAF.

They have the power to ban sailors, skippers and owners not just from the regatta but from the entire sport. ISAF have not shown such teeth in recent years but the precedent most quoted was the Admiral's Cup of 1987 when Austrian yacht I-Punkt was found to have illegal water ballast on board. Two of the sailing crew blew the whistle and, for their pains, were banned from the sport for a year. Others fared worse. Other crew members were banned for three years, the owners for 10.

Coutts has maintained steadfastly that whoever placed the illegal lead weights in Oracle AC45 yachts did so without the knowledge of Oracle team management or skippers.
But the jury are also looking into an avenue of inquiry that can see the team punished for failing to prevent the cheating - if such is proven.

Coutts himself sometimes skippered one of the AC45s in the America's Cup World Series, a warm-up event sailed 2012-13 in the 45-foot catamarans. His boat was later reported to have no illegal weights when inspected later - in contradiction of an OTUSA earlier report which suggested that it did.

Sir Ben Ainslie skippered another - though he was in London, becoming the most successful sailor in the history of the Olympic Games when the weights were allegedly applied to the boats. Australia's Jimmy Spithill skippered the other OTUSA yacht.

- Herald on Sunday

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