Dana Johannsen is the NZ Herald's chief sports reporter

Johannsen: America's Cup framework agreement at odds with founding document

Oracle founder Larry Ellison has tried to seize control of future editions of the America's Cup. PHOTO/Photosport.
Oracle founder Larry Ellison has tried to seize control of future editions of the America's Cup. PHOTO/Photosport.

It's been billed as a "defining moment for the America's Cup", but the new agreement announced overnight setting down the framework for the next two editions of the event could just as easily mean absolutely nothing.

The overseas news reports noted Team New Zealand's "curious" absence from the announcement. Of greater curiosity was why there were four other skippers standing alongside Jimmy Spithill on the podium in support of a plan that runs contrary to founding document of the event.

While Oracle Team USA insist the framework agreement "respects and upholds all aspects of the Deed of Gift", it does not. The Deed of Gift does not grant the defender the right to set the parameters for future editions of the Cup.

Oracle notes this in its own press release: "The Deed of Gift is the foundational document governing the America's Cup. One of the unique aspects of the competition is that after winning the racing on the water, the victorious yacht club and its team then become the trustees of the event, responsible for outlining the terms of the next edition."
In that sense, the announcement overnight should be viewed as Oracle outlining their intentions should they retain the Auld Mug in Bermuda in June.

There is nothing to stop a new defender and challenger of record - even the Oracle patsies that signed this agreement - from ignoring the framework in future editions.

Even if there are enforceability clauses in place in the new agreement, it is doubtful any court will uphold these and disregard a document that has governed the America's Cup for 165 years.

All we have is an agreement to agree.

For Team New Zealand, the only syndicate not to sign the plan, it must be galling to watch Oracle and its cabal of merry men pat themselves on the back for "getting together for the benefit of not only themselves but the America's Cup".

In a press release full of stunning ironies, the most comical was Oracle founder Larry Ellison's assertion that "[syndicates] who want to enter this race now know ... that the rules can't change on them".

This is after Oracle Team USA pushed through retrospective changes to both the format and class rules in this edition of the Cup nearly a year after the syndicates had agreed upon the protocol. If they can find a way around the agreements this time, they'll find a way to do it next time.

On the surface what Ellison, Russell Coutts and his cohorts are trying to do may appear quite honourable.

The lack of stability for teams between Cup cycles, the prohibitive costs of entry, the astronomical budgets, the changing class of yacht from one edition to the next - these are all long-agreed upon shortcomings of the event.

But drill down into the detail a little bit further, and it seems this plan will not achieve many of the objectives it sets out to. A budget of $US30-40m over a two year cycle does not represent any reduction in costs from the (admittedly dubious) $US80m figure organisers threw about when announcing plans for the 2017 event.

How they will attract new teams under these new terms is also questionable. The two-year turnaround and the decision to stick with the same America's Cup Class (ACC) yachts for the next cycle will heavily disadvantage any start-up syndicates.

The same goes for the rules that prevent teams from building, testing or training on AC45 surrogate boats.

Why would any new team sign on to the next edition of the event knowing their rivals already have the benefit of having run full testing programmes in previous cycles and have a bank of data?

The only way for any new team to catch up is poach a slew of key talent from other organisations - something that comes at a huge expense.

All the signatories to this new framework agreement appear to have done is try to secure their pay cheques for another four years, at the expense of removing the prestige from the America's Cup.

- NZ Herald

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