Yachting: Penalties risk Ellison's ire

By Paul Lewis

Punishing Oracle could result in protracted legal challenges if they lose on the water.

Oracle Team USA owner Larry Ellison has some of the deepest pockets in the world and may not take kindly to having points docked or sailors sent home. Photo / AP
Oracle Team USA owner Larry Ellison has some of the deepest pockets in the world and may not take kindly to having points docked or sailors sent home. Photo / AP

As the America's Cup international jury finally imposed sanctions on Oracle Team USA after the cheating saga, the question has to be asked: Is Larry Ellison watching?

The jury handed down its decision today, docking Oracle Team USA two points in the America's Cup match race series against Emirates Team New Zealand, while banning a leading Oracle sailor from the regatta and excluding another from taking part in the first four races.

The hearings revolved around cheating allegations stemming from the discovery of illegal modifications of the Oracle AC45s used in the America's Cup World Series, and the jury - an experienced and knowledgeable panel which includes three people with broad legal qualifications - would have chosen their words and actions very carefully.

That's because the defender of the America's Cup, Oracle, won it after a protracted two-year legal battle which cost millions of dollars. It resulted in the New York Court of Appeal ruling that Oracle's host yacht club - the Golden Gate Yacht Club - would become challenger of record, overturning the appointment of Spanish yacht club Club Nautico Espanol de Vela (CNEV).

The then holder, Alinghi, had angered the America's Cup community by producing a protocol for the next regatta which most regarded as entirely self-serving. Oracle BMW Racing, as they were then, saw an opportunity and challenged CNEV's eligibility as challenger of record - and won.

That enabled them to set up a deed of gift challenge under the America's Cup's founding document - involving only Oracle and Alinghi. Because of the greater interpretations allowed in a deed of gift (DOG) challenge, Oracle turned up with a 27m trimaran with a 68m wingsail which trounced Alinghi's catamaran.

It was the end to one of the most bitter squabbles in the history of the 162-year-old Cup; billionaires Ellison and Alinghi's Ernesto Bertarelli, once friends, became enemies.

But the DOG challenge gave Oracle the Cup and allowed them to set the parameters for what is happening now in San Francisco.

If Oracle lose the Cup, the prospect of a legal challenge based on the jury's penalty could be heightened. Oracle's Ellison has some of the deepest pockets in the world and may not take kindly to having points docked and sailors sent home.

However, any legal challenge is unlikely to take place until after the 34th America's Cup, which begins on Sunday morning (NZT), is decided on the water. The protocol for this Cup states that any side taking legal recourse during the regatta will be expelled from it. However, that does not rule out a post-regatta challenge.

Any legal action may pertain to sailors attempting to protect their reputation and livelihood through a body like the Court of Arbitration in Sport in Switzerland.

Most likely, perhaps, but that does not take into account the Ellison Effect.

The Oracle supremo is not a man who likes to lose and in his recent book (The Billionaire And The Mechanic) the tale is told of how tennis ace Rafael Nadal asked Ellison (also a tennis nut) about the secret of his success after they'd played a game of tennis.

Ellison gave a long answer at first but then said: "Forget everything I just said. The answer is simple. I never give up."

nzherald.co.nz will have live updates of all the action from San Francisco as the America's Cup gets underway on Sunday at 8am.

- NZ Herald

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