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America's Cup- Protocol changes rung ahead of Entry window opening

by Richard Gladwell Sail-World.com/nz on 9 Jun 2014
Golden Gate Yacht Club - Defender of the 35th America’s Cup © Richard Gladwell www.photosport.co.nz
The Defender of the America's Cup, Oracle Team USA has announced a series of changes to the Protocol for the next event.

The changes are said to be issued, as a result, of constructive feedback on the rules from prospective teams, prompting Hamilton Island Yacht Club, the Challenger of Record, and the Defender, Oracle Team USA to issue agreed amendments to the Protocol for the 35th America’s Cup.

The Protocol changes did not have comment from the Defending Club, Golden Gate Yacht Club, but by the skipper of the Defender, Jimmy Spithill, a competitor in the event.

'It’s been great to have positive and constructive contributions from prospective teams,' said Spithill in the official release which accompanied the changes.

'This process has echoed what we did with the Class Rules for the AC62 yacht, where feedback was taken on board and changes were made.

'Our goal is to make this the best America’s Cup ever and we can only do that when everyone is engaged and pulling in the same direction to make improvements.'

The most significant change is to the Protocol is for the responsibility for the appointment of the Regatta Director and his race officials shared by all Competitors, with one vote per Competitor, in line with how the officials are funded. (A Competitor in the America's Cup context means the Defender or a Challenger team.)

The Competitor Forum can also remove or change officials, however 75% of the Competitors must vote for a removal/change, but the new official only needs to receive a simple majority of the votes cast.

The Competitor Forum will appoint the Regatta Director, the Chief Measurer together with all members of the Measurement Committee, the Umpiring team and ant other Regatta officials required.

The effect of the change is to remove the right of the Defender and Challenger of Record to hire and fire key Race Officials, without reference to the other Competitors in the event. The independence of Regatta officials cannot now be questioned.

The point was also not lost that under the initial version of the Protocol, all the Competitors had to share the costs of the Regatta Officials, but had no say as to who was appointed, or their terms of engagement, or indeed the numbers of officials engaged.

The changes will both bring a level of control to the situation, and ensure that the Regatta Officials are seen to be independently appointed and insulated from team pressure/threat of removal.

Arbitration Panel Selection changes:
The Competitor Forum will have some control of the appointment of control of the Arbitration Panel, which has been established in the Protocol contrary to the International Sailing Federation regulations.

While an Arbitration Panel has been used in previous America's Cup, the ISAF changed its Regulations about two years ago to give itself the right to appoint International Jury and other key official for major events.

This was done to remain consistent with ISAF's objective of providing fairness of competition, without insinuation that officials were selected and, therefore, beholden to organisers, or a team (or both in the case of the unique nature of the America's Cup).

The ISAF also felt it necessary to adopt the right to ensure that only properly trained and qualified official were used in major regattas.

With the appointment of a member of the Court of Arbitration for Sport as its Chairman, the Arbitration Panel is set to bypass the ISAF's own adjudication officials used in every other regatta in the sport including Olympics and Volvo Ocean Race.

The first member of the panel will be selected by the Defender and Challenger of Record.

The Competitors Forum will select the second member of the Arbitration Panel and the first two members will select a third.

ISAF has no mention in the selection process, contrary to its own Regulations.

The yet to be appointed Regatta Director is still responsible under the Protocol for trying to come to an accommodation with the ISAF over the part the world body will, or will not play in the next America's Cup regattas.

However Article 12.2 of the Protocol will raise the blood-pressure of the ISAF hierachy: 'The terms of this Protocol shall prevail over the terms of any arrangements with ISAF'.

The first draft of the Protocol for the 34th America's Cup contained 11 references to the world body, including the use of its officials and rules. There are no such references in the 35th Protocol, which has been eight months in gestation.

Part of those discussions will not doubt involve the amount of fees paid to the world body, use of racing rules, and whether the world body will allow the officials it has trained and certified to be used in the America's Cup regatta.

As a federation of Member National Authorities (individual country sailing federations), it is likely that the ISAF will deal initially with the MNA's of the two countries involved in the Protocol. Those expected to be queried initially are US Sailing and Yachting Australia, along with the MNA's of any club whose teams enter the America's Cup, unless there is some accommodation reached with the ISAF.

The situation is not too different from break-out moves that have been made in other sports such as cricket, rugby and rugby league. All were driven by commercial considerations, when event organisers had a differing view of how their professional events should be run than the controlling world body.

Other changes in the Protocol include changes to the complex insurance requirements for competing teams.


Permission requirement altered
The rules requiring the America's Cup teams to have the permission of the AC Commercial Commissioner before competing in non AC35 events has been modified to make it clear that it applies only to America's cup teams.

'There was a similar rule in the last Cup but this time there was some confusion that it might restrict guys from sailing in the Olympics, for example,' Spithill said in the accompanying release. 'That was never the intent and although we don’t think the original rule did that, we’ve worked on the language to make it perfectly clear that this applies to America’s Cup teams – not individual sailors – competing in events in conflict with the Cup.'

Quite how the rule is applied remains to be seen. Certainly it would affect several AC teams competing in the Extreme Sailing Series, and other events. Team New Zealand could have been impacted if they enter the America's Cup, and had elected to enter the Volvo Ocean Race.

However, a workaround is easy - just form a new sailing team and enter to non-AC event under that entity. Or, in the case of New Zealand, just operate under the banner of the already established NZL Sailing Team, which is owned by Yachting New Zealand, with whom Team New Zealand have a good working relationship.

The changes to the Protocol take effect immediately, ahead of the entry period, which is open from June 9 through August 8, 2014.

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