America's Cup: Judgment leaves Oracle reeling

By Paul Lewis

Never before has any team been so heavily penalised or been held up to such unflatteringly intense scrutiny.

The America's Cup has never seen anything like it.

Lies, deceit, cheating, ignorance of the rules and ineffective management have led to the expulsion of two top Oracle Team USA sailors (one temporarily) and the docking of two points for the first-to-nine races final of the America's Cup.

Another Oracle sailor was in breach but not punished while two shore crew members were also excluded from the Cup over five incidents detailed by the America's Cup international jury concerning illegal modifications made to Oracle's AC45 catamarans.

It was a damning, scorching judgment which left little doubt that Oracle are a wounded team, some of whom have been at odds with others. It left no doubt the jury felt that cheating had taken place to aid performance in spite of protestations to the contrary.

"The performance enhancements would likely be small," the jury said, "but making many small enhancements is the nature of winning races at the top level of the sport, particularly in a one-design class with a closed rule."

The jury also suggested that two team members - leading wing trimmer Dirk de Ridder (now expelled from the event) and shore crew member Andy Walker (a New Zealander, also expelled) - had not told the truth.

It could have been even worse. The jury said in their report: "The jury failed to discover which individuals were responsible for all the breaches, resulting in concerns there may have been more.

"It also seems inconceivable that boat riggers initiated these changes without the knowledge of managers, or the direction of sailors, if not skippers," the report added.

Never before has any team been so heavily penalised or had their internal workings held up to such unflatteringly intense scrutiny after allegations of cheating.

Oracle management also came in for criticism. While the jury accepted that chief executive Sir Russell Coutts, general manager Grant Simmer and No2 skipper Sir Ben Ainslie were "respected professional sailors" who were shocked and disappointed by the cheating, systems and management were queried.

Their method of ensuring that individuals knew the rules were that team policy documents were left on the shelf. "There is corporate responsibility to ensure individuals are aware of the rules needed to discharge their duties in a compliant manner," the jury said in their report.

"The breaches were for the benefit of OTUSA. The conduct which was the subject of the rule breaches was passed from one individual to another to transfer them between boats, suggesting a corporate failing in addition to the failing of individuals.

"The jury does not accept OTUSA management's claim they had adequate systems in place to ensure 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.

" ... 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."

The jury also said it failed to discover those responsible for all the breaches, leading to concerns there might 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."

The reports seem to point at an America's Cup team divided, at least in part. Throughout the jury's two reports are references which hint at that - like the testimony of shore crew member Bryce Ruthenberg and that of back-up wing trimmer Kyle Langford, both of whom were commended for their honesty by the jury (though both were still found in breach; Langford without punishment).

Oracle shore team manager Mark Turner said boat builder Andrew Walker was in charge of the shore team at the Newport, Rhode Island, AC45 regatta in June last year (when some of the illegal modifications were made). Walker denied that.

The jury also outlined a review by America's Cup Event Authority chief executive Stephen Barclay, the New Zealander at the head of the body organising the event (as opposed to the racing). Barclay had been asked to comment on the effect of wrongdoing on the Cup - but said the public response to Oracle's conduct was negligible and would have "no measurable impact" on the future commercial interest of the America's Cup.

However, Oracle general manager Simmer had different views: "... in his evidence, [Simmer] stated that the team is damaged in reputation, in terms of the outside sailing world, owners and sponsors. Sponsors had not pulled out, Simmer said, but Oracle Inc is really upset."

Oracle No2 skipper Ainslie also told the jury that it was not good to be associated with the cheating inquiry with reference to his own reputation. He was concerned about sponsorship for future Cup campaigns

The jury took into account mitigating factors, including Simmer's cooperation with the jury, the disruption to the team, the interruption of their training, the loss of a valued wing trimmer, the stress and reputation damage to innocent members of the team - and said the penalty would have been heavier if not for those factors.

They also did not want to apply a penalty which would determine the outcome of the America's Cup - something best decided on the water.

What it means

* Oracle docked two points
* Fined US$250,000 payable to charity
* Four Oracle individuals excluded from the regatta
* Oracle now need to win 11 races to hold on to the America's Cup
* Team New Zealand need to win nine
* Oracle have lost the services of their top wing trimmer Dirk de Ridder, one of the world's best and a vital cog in the machine.

- NZ Herald

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