Yachting: Coutts calls for new clause in America's Cup

By Daniel Richardson

Russell Coutts.  Photo / Lloyd Images
Russell Coutts. Photo / Lloyd Images

Russell Coutts - the man who infamously defected from Team New Zealand to Alinghi in 2000 - is calling for the America's Cup to have a nationality component among the crews.

He says sailing would develop further if teams had to pick crew from their own country.

Coutts, who is chief executive of the Larry Ellison-bankrolled Oracle Racing team in the United States, revealed that he lobbied heavily for a nationality clause when the rules for the Auld Mug were rejigged in 2010.

As it stands, there are no crew regulations in the world's oldest active sporting trophy, although the boat must be built in the country it represents - where materials allow.

"If I was doing it again, I'd have the nationality rule, absolutely," Coutts says. "I tried to push it in this time. At least I think I was gunning for 50 per cent. Then I said, 'No, no, maybe we'll do 20 per cent.' After talking to the teams, the teams didn't really want it. It was going to make it too hard for teams such as China and Korea.

"Don't forget we've got to build the boats. That's always a fundamental rule in America's Cup, and if you go back to the history of it, the early days, the sailors on board actually weren't from the nation. It was the boat that was from the nation.

"Personally, I think it'd be a better event if you had a nationality component in the crews. But all of the teams, I think except Team New Zealand, voted against it. I think it'd be better because it'd give fans more to engage with, which I think would be good, and I also think it'd be better for the development of sailing. If we were forced to use Americans, we would be forced to develop those sailors."

It's difficult to fault Coutts' logic, especially as he's the most successful skipper in the history of the event with four wins.

During a chat at Oracle's team base in San Francisco, it's easy to see Coutts is still passionate about a trophy that has made him one of New Zealand's wealthiest athletes.

Some reports put his earnings at US$11 million ($13.4 million) with Oracle but, most importantly, he doesn't want to see the event die out.

It's a long way from his days as a youngster in Upper Hutt when his father built his first boats in their garage.

He recently turned 50 and he is remarkably in touch with what makes professional sport popular with a fickle public now spoilt for viewing choice.

Coutts agrees the event's reputation took a major hit with the nasty legal battles between Swiss team Alinghi and Oracle over the 2010 cup. "It's hurt it a lot. It's something that I think should've and could've been avoided. But it happened, we've just got to get over it and move on."

He said the new AC72 catamarans racing would be good for the America's Cup and popular with sailors, fans and broadcasters.

"Absolutely, I think it will and a lot of these changes that we've made will help things a lot. It's probably going to take a period of time before people see the new America's Cup for what it is. But I can tell you now, by 2013, by the end of the cup, it's going to see a dramatic transformation.

"I think that's one of the keys - we've got to develop a wider audience. Some of the problems with sailing is it's perceived as elitist. We've got that stuffy, yacht-club mentality that's still there and I, frankly, think this new product, this new style of event, is breaking down those barriers."

Alinghi have confirmed they won't line up next year to be part of the challenger series to earn the right to meet Oracle for a shot at the trophy.

Just three teams have officially signed on to compete in the Louis Vuitton Cup - Team New Zealand, Luna Rossa of Italy, and Swedish team Artemis.

Daniel Richardson travelled to San Francisco courtesy of Air New Zealand and Visit California.

- APNZ

© Copyright 2014, APN New Zealand Limited

Assembled by: (static) on red akl_n4 at 02 Sep 2014 19:30:40 Processing Time: 570ms