Peter Lester: Decision on Oracle will reach into all sports

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Photo / Gilles Martin-Raget
Photo / Gilles Martin-Raget

The big news in the America's Cup world this week is not what has been happening out on the water in the youth fleet, but what has been going on behind closed doors in the jury room.

The international jury has been working for weeks to get to the bottom of the allegations that Oracle Team USA cheated during the World Series regattas by making illegal modifications to their boats. Hopefully by early next week we will have a resolution to this debacle.

While it's big news in the sailing community, I'm not sure the public have quite twigged how serious this case is. I don't really blame them - the America's Cup has a chequered history of jury protests and events being stalled as two sides are wrapped up in litigation over minutiae. On the surface it probably appears this is just another example.

But this is different. This is a sporting issue and every sports fan should be interested in the outcome.

We're talking about cheating - a team that have, in the words of the measurement committee, deliberately circumvented the rules. The implications reach far wider than the America's Cup, with Oracle fronting a hearing into whether they have brought the sport into disrepute.

The question the jury will be grappling with, if Oracle are found to have acted improperly, is also a question for the whole sporting world. What do you do with individuals and organisations that are found to have cheated? Whether it's doping, using illegal equipment or breaching the salary cap, how do you send out the message that cheating is not tolerated, knowing you are also dealing with people's lives? Because for the sailors involved, this could be career-ending.

I've been impressed by how thorough the jury has been with this case. They've been under the pump to get a decision out and resolve this whole mess, but they haven't hurried it. We can be confident the jury is independent and its final decision will be well thought out - I don't know if we could have said the same in 2007, after some of the shenanigans that went on there. In this Cup cycle, not all decisions have gone the way of Team New Zealand by any means, but the jury is doing an excellent job of applying the rules in a fair and consistent manner.

It's especially important with this case that the jury members are thorough, as their processes and decision-making will really be put under the microscope at the end of this. I wouldn't mind betting this will be used as a case study for all sports in years to come.

There's also the danger that if Oracle are unhappy with the outcome, this could end up at the Court of Arbitration for Sport in Lausanne, because the implications will be so massive.

On the sailing front, next week we've got the Red Bull Youth America's Cup kicking off. I'm infuriated the America's Cup has been hijacked by these sideshows. I don't mind the world series and youth events, but let's be clear - it's not the America's Cup. To brand it that way is a bit of a cover-up for the main event not attracting any entries.

It's great to see the young guys out there ripping around in AC45s, but we need to keep it in context; it's a class regatta in 45-foot catamarans, just as the world series was.

- NZ Herald

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