Dana Johannsen is the NZ Herald's chief sports reporter

Midweek Fixture: How Oracle have ruined the America's Cup

Oracle Team USA in training off Bermuda. Photo/Sam Greenfield
Oracle Team USA in training off Bermuda. Photo/Sam Greenfield

Over the next few weeks Team New Zealand will pack down their base in Auckland and depart for Bermuda to complete their final preparations ahead of the America's Cup.

It was only a month ago the Kiwi team were launching their radical new race boat, lifting the lid on their shock new pedal-powered grinding innovation. But such is the time pressure the Kiwis are under in this edition of the Cup, their window for refining their ideas and systems in fast closing.

We'll soon find out if Emirates Team New Zealand has done enough on the waters of the Waitemata Harbour over the past month to give them a shot at wresting the Cup away from Oracle.

In fact, Team NZ's moment of truth will come much sooner in Bermuda than it should. Day two, as it turns out.

Come race five of the America's Cup "qualifiers", in which Team NZ will line up against Oracle Team USA, the Kiwi syndicate will know how their boat stacks up.

As Oracle have already qualified for the America's Cup by virtue of being the defenders, their involvement in the early round-robin competition can only be described as naked self-interest.

Oracle were caught off guard by Team NZ's superior boat speed in the early stages of the 34th Cup match in San Francisco. While the defenders were able to engineer one of sport's greatest comebacks of all time to reclaim the Cup, they do not want to find themselves in that situation again.

So, they overhauled the race format for this year's edition in Bermuda, involving themselves in the challenger elimination series to ensure there'll be no surprises come the America's Cup match.

As defenders, it is Oracle's absolute right to do so. The deed that governs the America's Cup gives the defender the power to determine the rules for the next event.

But in their rush to stack the deck so heavily in their favour it is almost comical, Oracle have removed the magic of the America's Cup.

I remember the old yachting romantics telling me before race one of the 2013 America's Cup "there's nothing like the first leg of the first race of the America's Cup".

Part of the beauty of the event was the anticipation that built around the first showdown between the successful challengers and the defenders. No one knew what was going to happen.

We could all speculate on which team looked sharp around the race track and had the slickest design, but the reality was, until the two teams hit the startline, it was all a guessing game.

That mystery has been removed for this edition of the Cup, for no other reason than to meet Oracle's self-serving needs.

Even that wouldn't be so bad were they upfront about their motives, but the likes of Larry Ellison and Russell Coutts continue to paint themselves as altruistic guardians of the America's Cup.

They have even convinced the competitors (with the exception of Team NZ) to agree to the rules and format for the next two editions of the Cup beyond this year's event in Bermuda, you know, to safeguard the future of the America's Cup and everything.

Sure, the event has been running 166 years, but you know what they say - the 167th year is always the toughest.

"Transparency" has never been a term you would associate with the America's Cup. It has long been a game of smoke and mirrors, scheming and secrecy.

While the Ellison and Coutts can be credited for the quantum leap in technological advancement in the past two Cup cycles, you can't help but feel off the water the event has regressed under their ego-driven stewardship.

THE WEEK IN MEDIA
A decade on from former Pakistan coach Bob Woolmer's death at the 2007 Cricket World Cup in Jamaica, the BBC's Alison Mitchell recounts the chaos and confusion of the time.

- NZ Herald

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