America's Cup: Legal challenge looking unlikely

By Paul Lewis

Jimmy Spithill. Photo / Gilles Martin-Raget
Jimmy Spithill. Photo / Gilles Martin-Raget

One of the fears stemming from the America's Cup international jury's penalty of docking two points from Oracle Team USA was that it could provoke legal action after the Cup.

After all, Oracle took then-America's Cup holder Alinghi to court after the 2007 regatta - and won court approval to issue a Deed of Gift challenge. That resulted in Oracle's giant 90-foot trimaran beating Alinghi's 90-foot catamaran and setting up the 34th America's Cup in San Francisco.

The fear was that, if the San Francisco racing was close, court action might follow if Oracle was to lose narrowly.

However, with the scoreline now at 6 to -1, that scenario seems unlikely. When there is a new, development class - like the AC72 72-foot catamarans - traditionally one of the two boats proves much faster and a one-sided scoreline develops.

Later, through different Cup campaigns using the same class of boats, the design differences become smaller and the racing typically closer.

However, many in the Oracle camp felt the jury penalties for the cheating saga involving the AC45 catamarans were overly harsh. The jury ended the regatta for four Oracle team members, including crack wing trimmer Dirk de Ridder, found to have committed gross misconduct. They fined the team US$250,000 and docked Oracle two points.

Oracle CEO, Sir Russell Coutts, and skipper Jimmy Spithill both commented on the jury penalties. Coutts said it was "outrageous" and, in a short statement, said his syndicate "disagreed" with the penalties.

But he told the San Francisco Chronicle: "I'm astounded, to be honest with you, that they penalised the whole team for this. It sets an outrageous precedent for the future.

"Imagine an Olympic team, and one member infringes a rule. Does that mean the whole team gets penalised?"

Spithill also said he disagreed with the decision - publicly expressed statements which could support a later decision to take the matter to court.

The America's Cup protocol - drafted by Oracle Team USA - states that any team taking recourse to legal action during the regatta will be excluded from it.

Now, however, with the score so clear-cut so far, the prospect of legal action claiming that the penalty robbed Oracle of the Cup would be extremely hard to argue. A large winning margin also greatly increases the likelihood that Oracle would be vilified if they took legal action after being found to have cheated and been punished for it

If Team New Zealand should go on to win the match 9 to -1, that will be a unique result in the history of the America's Cup. Never before has the Cup been won with a negative scoreline.

Not that such a score will show in the official results. The organisers are showing the score as 6-0 at present (with Emirates Team NZ having won six races and Oracle one). To any basic followers of maths, being docked two points and winning one race while the opposition won six would be expressed 6 to -1.

However, in its decision, the jury said: "OTUSA shall be penalised one point for each of the first two races of the match in which they would otherwise score a point."

In America's Cup semantics, that means Oracle start on zero. But when they win a race, as they did in Race 4, the point earned will not be scored - ensuring they remain on zero for the first two races they win.

All very confusing - which is why the New Zealand Herald and the Herald on Sunday have been listing the score as 6 to -1.

The only other syndicate to produce a minus score was OneWorld, the US-based syndicate which competed in Auckland in 2003 and which was docked a point after being found with information belonging to Team NZ. They were then eliminated (by Oracle, ironically) by 4 to -1 but the official America's Cup score was relayed as 4-0.

- Herald on Sunday

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