Yachting: Jury decision could prolong Cup racing

By Paul Lewis

Any docking of points from Oracle - and unkind weather - may extend regatta.

Oracle Team USA's two AC72 catamarans training in San Francisco. Docked points are considered the most likely. Photo / ACEA
Oracle Team USA's two AC72 catamarans training in San Francisco. Docked points are considered the most likely. Photo / ACEA

If the international jury takes a point or points off Oracle Team USA in the cheating saga, a combination of that penalty and unco-operative weather could see the America's Cup regatta extended.

While the jury's verdict and decision on any penalties are not expected to be known until tomorrow morning (NZT), it is widely anticipated that Oracle will be hit hard with at least one sailor (and probably more) excluded from the Cup and with the team also hit with a penalty.

Docked points are considered the most likely method of penalising OTUSA as a team if the cheating allegations surrounding their AC45 catamarans are proven.

That is for two reasons: It's been done before and at least two members of the jury were also on the jury which docked one point from OneWorld - the US$80 million ($103 million) challenge from mobile phone billionaire Craig McCaw and Microsoft founder Paul Allen at the 2003 America's Cup in Auckland.

Many thought OneWorld would become the first syndicate to be kicked out of the Cup. But the jury did not go that far.

OneWorld were found to have breached the Cup protocol when a designer had in his possession information that was the property of Emirates Team New Zealand.

The jury - then chaired by Bryan Willis, now a member of the 2013 jury, and including David Tillett (the chairman of the 2013 jury) - docked OneWorld one point from each of the next stages.

The jury's powers are wide-ranging; they can essentially apply any penalty they choose. With OneWorld, the jury effectively penalised the team up to three points - one point in the Louis Vuitton Cup semifinal, one in the Louis Vuitton final (if it made it there) and one in the America's Cup match (if it made it there).

In the end, OneWorld went out in the semifinals, beaten (ironically) by Oracle BMW Racing, as they were called in those days. When they lined up at the start of their first-to-four semifinal, Oracle needed to win four races to qualify for the final; OneWorld needed five. In the end, Oracle won four straight to win the semifinals four points to OneWorld's minus one).

In another irony, on the OneWorld helm that year was a young James Spithill, now Oracle's No1 skipper.

Precedent will be important if the jury are to be consistent (although one Cup's rulings are not necessarily incumbent on another's) and perhaps to help lessen the likelihood of any legal challenge after the Cup is completed.

So if, for argument's sake, the jury applies a points penalty against OTUSA, it seems likely to stick to its previous modus operandi and dock points - rather than give two points to Emirates Team NZ.

That seems more appropriate in that ETNZ have had nothing to do with this whole cheating saga and there is a subtle difference between awarding the opponents points and docking the guilty party, as happened with OneWorld. The protocol states it is a first-to-nine final and giving ETNZ two points would mean they only had to win seven. If two points are docked, that would mean OTUSA would have to win 11 races to hold the Cup. ETNZ would have to win nine races in the best-of-17 encounter.

However, if the racing was close and the weather and tides do not co-operate, it's possible the regatta would have to be extended to fit in all the races necessary.

The Cup's last day is set down for September 21 with planned reserve days (September 16, 18 and 20) to take up any slack. However, two races are scheduled for every day from September 8 (NZT) and this regatta does not have a good record so far in producing two races a day, with the wind limits trimmed after Andrew Simpson's fatal accident in Artemis' capsize in May.

However, it's also entirely possible that if one boat is markedly faster it could power through to a victory well inside the time allotted; Oracle did exactly that to OneWorld in 2003.

Much has changed since then. In Auckland in 2003, there were nine teams from six countries challenging for the Louis Vuitton Cup. They sailed 120 races over five months to find the challenger (Alinghi) who eventually took the Cup from Team NZ.

But let's not go there ...

This year there were just three challengers and the regatta had to endure the strange sight of one-boat races and, worse, no-boat races.

But let's not go there either.

- NZ Herald

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