As the America's Cup turns

Mainstream the mainsails!

Just add wall-to-wall American TV and, bingo, professional sailing goes mainstream.
  • Just add wall-to-wall American TV and, bingo, professional sailing goes mainstream.

When last we looked, so many teams had withdrawn or decided not to compete that America’s Cup was reduced to one-boat races. Remember New Zealand racing against New Zealand to see if New Zealand could bring home the win? Spoiler alert. New Zealand won.

On August 5, the America’s Cup Measurement Committee, in a report to America’s Cup race director Iain Murray, said Oracle Team USA had made “an intentional effort” to circumvent the rules. Or, to put it another way, the way everybody else puts it, Oracle Team USA cheated.

That’s what Grant Dalton, managing director of Emirates Team New Zealand, Oracle’s chief rival, told the AP: “You can’t actually get to any other point than the fact they were cheating.”

The cheat occurred during the America’s Cup World Series (ACWS), a run of races leading up to the America’s Cup regatta. Oracle admitted that illegal weights were placed on three of its boats but explained those evil deeds were done by a “small number of team members,” management had no knowledge, and, anyway, the extra weight didn’t affect performance. With that, Oracle voluntarily forfeited four ACWS regatta wins.

New Zealand’s managing director responded, “Why would you do it if it didn’t make any difference? [Oracle’s explanation] is complete nonsense.”

There are only two challenger teams. Max Sirena, skipper of Italy’s Luna Rossa, represents the other challenger. When asked at Thursday’s news conference if Oracle cheated, Sirena said, “For sure. I mean, it’s pretty obvious what they’ve done, which is pretty bad for our sport.”

You know it’s bad when the official America’s Cup website has the following headline on its opening screen: “America’s Cup organizers dismayed by ORACLE TEAM USA revelations.”

So, what happens now?

To recap: the America’s Cup Measurement Committee made a finding that Oracle appears to have made “an intentional effort to circumvent the rules and handed said report to America’s Cup regatta director Iain Murray. Murray then filed a protest to the international jury of the International Sailing Federation (ISF). The five-member jury is investigating Oracle’s transgressions.

Penalties could be severe. Sail World says, “Penalties for deliberately altering a measurement condition of a boat are treated very seriously, often resulting in substantial bans from the sport on both those directly involved and those not directly involved, but who had knowledge of the situations and did nothing.”

Finally, the international jury is investigating the matter under Rule 69 of the International Sailing Federation Racing Rules. Rule 69 relates to “allegations of gross misconduct.”

Possible outcomes include throwing Oracle out of the America’s Cup regatta and giving the trophy to the winner of the challenger series. Or, they could allow Oracle to race, but spot the challenger one, two, or more wins in the best of 17 final. Or, they may settle for a fine. Larry Ellison, owner of Oracle Team USA, with a personal net worth of $43 billion, would likely regard a fine as punishment parody.

And in a perfect America’s Cup twist, on Friday the America’s Cup Measurement Committee admitted that one of the three Oracle boats was not illegally modified after all. The committee was in error due to their own “miscommunication and/or misunderstanding” with the boat builder that was preparing the catamarans for competition. According to an AP story, Oracle Team USA was investigating matters and asked to see their vessels. During conversation they were told the measurement committee never looked at the boats.

America’s Cup: A laugh a minute.

San Francisco was chosen to host the 2013 America’s Cup in January 2011. Organizers said the economic impact would be on the order of a Super Bowl. The regatta would bring with it 8000 new jobs and 1.2 billion new bucks.

Easy peasy. You’ve got San Francisco Bay as race course. You’ve got behemoth catamarans with wing sails 13 stories high, racing at 50 mph, hulls literally flying over the water, boats coming so close to land that spectators can hear sailors talk to each other. Now, add wall-to-wall American TV and, bingo, professional sailing goes mainstream.

Instead, for the grand finale, we are left with the real — although less real than it was yesterday — possibility of the defending America’s Cup champion being disqualified from the tournament for cheating.

The challenger series is not expected to be much of a contest. New Zealand has previously thrashed Luna Rossa in the Louis Vuitton Cup round-robins. The real question is, can this fiasco get any worse? Could it end with Oracle being disqualified, so that we can then witness the logical culmination to the 2013 America’s Cup regatta? New Zealand battling New Zealand. Best of 17 races, winner enthroned as America’s Cup champion, loser serves five years on the ISF international jury.

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