America's Cup: World Yacht Racing Forum talks to Russell Coutts

(L to R) Russell Coutts, CEO and Skipper, BMW Oracle Racing shaking hands with Brad Butterworth, Skipper and vice president, Team Alinghi after the America`s Cup debate at the 2009 World Yacht Racing Forum

The America's Cup debate has traditionally been one of the World Yacht Racing Forum's highlights. Last December's session saw the first – and only – public meeting between the then Defender Alinghi and Challenger of record BMW ORACLE Racing during their two and a half years of bitter rivalry.

The new Defender issued, last week, the long awaited draft Protocol for the 34th America's Cup. The team’s CEO Russell Coutts speaks exclusively to the World Yacht Racing Forum and answers some of the questions that many have been asking…

WYRF: What are the key changes you are introducing for the next America's Cup?

Russell Coutts: We are obviously working in a lot of different directions. I think by now everybody has understood that we want fair rules; one of our priorities is also massively improved media output, particularly on screens whether that's television or other devices. We are doing a lot of research on technology and formats, and will do some tests in July. For example, some people pretend that you can't do match race with multihulls, or that you need slow boats; this needs to be confirmed. It is very important for Larry and I to make sailing more TV friendly and understandable by a large public; otherwise the sport simply won't move forward.

WYRF: How do you respond to those that are saying you are taking a long time to announce the format of the next Cup?

Russell Coutts: It is true. We are just trying to do things well and to take the right decisions: it's a heavy responsibility and a major task. The choice of the venue is obviously key, and a lot of things depend on it, including the boat. We also want to bring the costs down and need to be very careful with the decisions we take. The number of crew is one element: typically personnel accounts for 60 % of the budget of a campaign. Other elements include sensible restrictions on material and technology.

Valencia, 2/14/10 Alinghi5 33rd America's Cup Day 7 - Race 2 GGYC wins the 33rd America's Cup Match USA 17 Guido Trombetta / Alinghi
Guido Trombetta/Team Alinghi

WYRF: Will you develop a circuit of pre-regattas?

Russell Coutts: Yes, absolutely. This concept started in 1997 and was perpetuated in 2000 and 2007 with the Acts, which were good. We need to move up from this, particularly with regards to the logistics, which will play a huge role. We also need a format that really has a meaning. Our objective is to increase the value of the America's Cup for all teams and investors and we therefore need more events.

WYRF: Do you have a target number of teams?

Russell Coutts: We clearly prefer eight top level teams to fifteen and half of them disappearing half way through. Considering the current state of the economy, eight teams is a realistic number. Our goal is to build commercial value for the teams and partners; if this leads to more strong teams in the future, then great!

WYRF: How can you guarantee that the process for the next Cup will be democratic and that you won't have an edge over your competitors?

Russell Coutts: We have hired some people who are not part of our team or defence organization and are working on the rules for a new boat and the ‘on the water' race organization. We will announce the rules a long time ahead of the event and this will guarantee its fairness. We want the rules to be in place before people start joining, so that teams and partners know what they sign-up for. We have already circulated a draft Protocol to a small group of people and soon a bigger group will receive it. When the rules come out it will be clear to everyone that they are fair.

WYRF: How do you concretely consult the other teams considering that the registrations are not open?

Russell Coutts: At this initial stage we consult people who have a lot of experience. Nobody is excluded; there's just a natural selection as we speak to teams and people who have already participated in the America's Cup. In the next two months we will identify potential new teams and speak to them. Basically what we want is to consult the event's stakeholders. Then we will take the decisions. We can't use a system of votes, because we need to consider all the aspects of the organization, TV, logistics etc…

Valencia, 2/14/10 Alinghi5 33rd America’s Cup Day 7 - Race 2 GGYC wins the 33rd America’s Cup Match Brad Butterworth, Larry Ellison, Ernesto Bertarelli, Russell Coutts

WYRF: Do you have a preference between monohulls and multihulls?

Russell Coutts: I honestly don't, and as a team we don't either; what we want is the best event.

WYRF: There are many rumors concerning the venue. How open is the selection process and what are the criteria?

Russell Coutts: Well, San Francisco is an appealing venue to Larry as everyone knows. But the selection process remains open, and it is not restrained to the US. The first criteria will be the sailing conditions, as we want to create a great event. Delays kill the sport and we must avoid this. I must say that I am gratified to see how motivated the potential venues are: the interest is huge.

For more on the World Yacht Racing Forum see www.worldyachtracingforum.com and www.worldyachtracingforum.com/92__register_details.html!click_here to register for the next Forum at Estoril Congress Centre, Portugal from 14 - 15 December 2010
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