America's Cup: Oracle to begin on minus-2

By Paul Lewis

The America's Cup international jury today docked Oracle Team USA two points in the America's Cup match race series against Emirates Team New Zealand, banned a leading Oracle sailor from the regatta and excluded another from taking part in the first four races.

Read Dana Johannsen's commentary on the blows the Oracle team absorbed in today's decision.

In addition Oracle have been fined US$250,000 while two Oracle shore crew have also been excluded from the 34th America's Cup, which begins its best-of-17 series on Sunday morning at 8.10am (NZT).

The action comes after days of jury inquiries into allegations of cheating involving the discovery of illegal modifications to AC45 45-foot catamarans belonging to Oracle and used in the America's Cup World Series. The team members are the first ever to be excluded from an America's Cup regatta for cheating.

The sailor banned is Dirk de Ridder, the wingsail trimmer and a leading member of Oracle's crew, recognised as one of the best trimmers in the world. The other sailor excluded for four races is former Team New Zealand sailor Matt Mitchell. Shore crew Andy Walker (also a Kiwi) and Australian Bryce Ruthenberg have also been excluded from the regatta.

The jury said: "OTUSA has not used its best endeavours to ensure that the relevant members were aware of the applicable rules and provide proper direction and supervision."

"The Jury does not accept OTUSA Management's claim they had adequate systems in place to ensure that employees complied with the Class Rule and that it was effectively the actions of a small number of misguided employees whom they had or would take action against.

"Most of those involved are experienced professional sailors or boat builders. The stark reality is a series of breaches occurred over a period of time which clearly demonstrated that their systems were not adequate or robust as demonstrated by multiple breaches at multiple events.

"It is not just the benefit of hindsight that it is evident that elementary and necessary precautions were not taken to prevent such breaches occurring. The Jury failed to discover which individuals were responsible for all the breaches, resulting in concerns there may have been more.

"For example, there was evidence of a bag of lead being inserted into a king post but no evidence of who removed it or what happened to it. There were emails referring to "fill king posts? as if there was an intention to fill both king posts on boat BAR, but no evidence as to whether one king post was filled and emptied.

The Oracle Team USA team members excluded from the America's Cup:

Dirk de Ridder (Netherlands)
Oracle's No 1 wing trimmer, an important position on the big AC72 catamaran as he is in charge of the giant 40m wingsail from which the boat derives its power. Aged 40, de Ridder was on board USA17 when the 90-foot trimaran won the Cup from Alinghi in 2010.

He is the brother-in-law of renowned Oracle tactician and Cup sailor John Kostecki - the only man ever to have won the trifecta of the round-the-world yacht race, an Olympic medal and the Americas Cup. De Ridder also competed at the Olympics - he came fourth in the Soling class in Sydney in 2000 - and was crew on boat the illbruck when it won the Volvo Round The World race in 2001.

Matt Mitchell (New Zealand; excluded only for four races)
A two-time America's Cup winner, 41-year-old Mitchell was a grinder and member of Emirates Team NZ for the 2000 and 2003 campaigns before joining Alinghi for the successful 2007 defence of the America's Cup in Valencia.

Oracle are his fourth syndicate - his America's Cup career began in 1995 with the ill-fated OneAustralia syndicate in San Diego. OneAustralia's top boat sank to the bottom of the Pacific Ocean after suffering a hull failure. Mitchell wasn't aboard that day, but his boatbuilding skills helped get the team's second yacht ready for the Louis Vuitton Cup Final.

Mitchell grew up sailing dinghies around Auckland before graduating to keelboats and later match racing. In 2009, when he was still with Alinghi, he was involved in a minor controversy when he and crew member Dean Phipps, both claiming Maori heritage, flew the Maori sovereignty flag on Waitangi Day during the Louis Vuitton Pacific Series - and were told to take it down.

Shore crew also excluded:

Andy Walker (New Zealand, boat builder)
A member of Oracle's shore team in the 2007 America's Cup, other details not yet known.

Bryce Ruthenberg (Australia; rigger, 34)
A former member of the Swedish Victory Challenge before shifting to Oracle in 2005. A sailor since he was 15, he has raced skiffs such as the 18-footer and 49er and several Sydney-Hobart races. Last year he also crewed for Oracle skipper James Spithill on the RC 44 yacht 17, which won the 2010 RC 44 World Championship and match racing championship with Langford. Ruthenberg once served as caretaker for the house of the late George Harrison, one of the Beatles.

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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