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Gladwell's Line- Ainslie Racing plans novel approach to America's cup

by Richard Gladwell on 10 Jan 2012
Ben Ainslie, pictured on the podium at the Finn - Weymouth and Portland International Regatta 2011 © Richard Langdon/Skandia Team GBR

Ben Ainslie, winner of four Olympic medals, three of them Gold, will hold a media conference on Tuesday 10 June at 10.00am local time, to announce his plans post 2012.

The announcement will be made at the Royal Festival Hall, London and will be carried live on Sail-World. The announcement is scheduled to run for 30-40 minutes.

Ainslie is expected to announce his sailing direction beyond the 2012 Olympics, in which he has been nominated to represent Britain in the Heavyweight Singlehander (Finn) class.

The British newspaper http://www.telegraph.co.uk/sport/olympics/sailing/9003700/London-2012-Olympics-Ben-Ainslie-to-follow-up-bid-for-record-fourth-gold-medal-with-Americas-Cup-campaign.html!Daily_Telegraph, reports in today's edition, ahead of a media conference scheduled for Tuesday morning local time, that Ainslie will announce a team to be backed by the America's Defender's Patron, software billionaire, Larry Ellison.

The team will seek commercial sponsors with Oracle Racing handling the underwrite.

It is reported that Ainslie will drop three America's Cup World Series regattas in 2012, as he prepares for the 2012 Olympics. However after August 2012, he will shift the Oracle Racing team as a helmsman, effectively giving the Defender a third team on the ten team ACWS circuit. His first regatta will be in September 2012 in San Francisco.



Under the terms of the Protocol for the 34th America's Cup the team, to be known as Ben Ainslie Racing, will have to be entered by a yacht club, believed to be Royal Cornwall Yacht Club (since confirmed).

Under the terms of the 19th century Deed of Gift for the America's Cup, only yacht clubs of foreign countries (ie not from the same country as the Defender) can Challenge (subject to meeting three basic conditions).

Simply in the current edition of the America's Cup, if your yacht club is not US based, you are by definition, a Challenger, and have the right under the Deed of Gift, to make a Challenge for the America's Cup. There is no place for a 'Chall-Fender'.

In terms of event administration, stemming from the Deed of Gift, teams are divided into being on the Defender or Challenger side of the competition. It's like drafting sheep - you go one way or the other.

That basic requirement is further enshrined under Part 1 of the Protocol governing the the America's Cup, and America's Cup World Series. A team must have a club, and by definition a country. A team cannot race in its own right.

Quite how a team can be entered by a Club who is not from the country of origin of the Defender, and is therefore a Challenger, but is openly funded by the Defender's prime backer, is a routine of mental gymnastics that few would seriously attempt to explain on grounds of other than expediency.

In the America's Cup proper, there are believed to be only four teams entered, who will compete in the AC72 open design class of wingsailed catamaran. The other six teams at this stage have only entered the America's Cup World Series sailed in the one design AC45 class.

A new one for the Cup

The announcement of the new team is a novel approach, in the America's Cup's 160 year history, where a team is entered by a Challenger, and is reported as being funded by the backer of the Defender.

The move begs comparison with the much maligned Club Nautico Espanol de Vela which was the puppet Challenger of Record of the 2007 Defender Societe Nautique de Geneve. That arrangement was frequently described by the Golden Gate Yacht Club, now the Defender, as a sham - a view that was ultimately endorsed by the New York Supreme Court after a protracted Court battle.

In the circumstances, it is difficult to see how Ben Ainslie Racing, or more properly its UK club, could be accepted as a bona fide first tier (AC72 class) Challenger for the America's Cup, requiring the payment of an additional USD200,000 - a sum, which in the grand scheme of things, is mere ice-cream money.

Oh, and then there is a the $40million or so required to get a basic one AC72 campaign onto the start line.

To be accepted as a AC72 Challenger, the UK club would have to meet the requirements of the Deed of Gift and America's Cup Protocol. That would not normally be an issue - except that the club handling that vetting process is the Defender, Golden Gate Yacht Club. Even in the bizzare world of the America's Cup, which has few surprises left for even the most cynical of observers, such a scenario would seem to be a massive stretch in credibility. It's not going to happen.

It is more likely that Ainslie will be come a Defender in drag, and will form a key part of the Defence team in their AC72 campaign, while continuing to race in the ACWS under the Ben Ainslie Racing banner, and with an eye to a British backed campaign in the 35th America's Cup.

It is a distinct possibility that the entry of Ben Ainslie Racing will have to be sanctioned by the International Jury.

The simple issue lies in his choice of yacht club. Had Ainslie selected a US yacht club for his team, and then come in on the Defender side of the America's Cup, there would be no gripes, and good on him for getting another team off the ground.

Or, he runs with his alma mater, Royal Cornwall, and comes into the America's Cup as a Challenger, and drops out after Naples in May 2013, until the 35th America's Cup gets underway in a new form. No problem with that, and good on Ainslie for getting traction with a new team.

But you can't swap sides at half-time.

Yep, some will point to the provision in the Protocol which says that crew cannot change teams once the Regatta (Louis Vuitton Cup and America's Cup Match) has started. They will note that Ainslie is really working in his best interests as an individual - working on getting a viable Challenger entity running in the ACWS, and then switching to the Defence side to get his best ride for the 34th America's Cup.

What has many of the Cup aficionados shaking their heads is the head of a Challenger team saying he will work in the best interests of the Defender. If that is the intention, why not come in on the Defender side from the outset?

And then there is the issue of the Protocol stipulation that a team may enter a second AC45 in the ACWS. Oracle Racing already have two. Is Ben Ainslie Racing a third, given that he will be working for the team on the AC72 program post August 2012?

The key will come in the crew selection. Running with an English born crew who are not associated with Oracle Racing will lend credibility to his objective of building a British Team aimed at the 35th America's Cup, however it won't do much to assist Oracle Racing building two 11 man crews required to run their two AC72's. It will be interesting to follow just how this vital aspect of BAR is handled.

PostScript:

This story was written before the official announcement. Since then it has been pointed out that it is now possible to enter and compete in the ACWS without entering the America's Cup. This change in the Protocol was made some time after its initial publication (there have been 10 amendments), and was one of a number of measures that came in along with the reduction and scrapping of performance bonds and the like which greatly reduced the cost of entry into the ACWS and America's Cup.

The International Jury in a recent ruling on a separate matter, said in discussion, that the two events ACWS and America's Cup Regatta, were not in fact separate but were a single, albeit two tiered event.

Under the current draft of the Protocol, a team may enter only two teams in the ACWS, which Oracle Racing has done.

Ben Ainslie Racing have not yet announced their crew. Their entry is at the pending stage - in other words it is still being vetted by the Trustee, who is also the Defender, Golden Gate Yacht Club. An announcement on that will no doubt be made in due course.

The sting lies in the fact that the Protocol also has provisions regarding Neutral Management, specifically in Article 3 requires the named organising parties requires to 'act in the best interests of all Competitors collectively', and 'not unreasonably favor the interests of any Competitor over another'. Clearly GGYC cannot accept the RCYC/BAR entry if that unreasonably favored their GGYC's own interests.

In the same vein there are several ways in which BAR could race in the ACWS, and be beyond question, despite Ainslie's role with the Defender, his expressed hope that the Defender wins, and that he will do anything required of him, to help them achieve that outcome.


Recent Jury Decisions in new light

The Ainslie/Oracle move is also interesting in the light of two recent International Jury Interpretations.

The first interpretation, requested by the Defender, can now be seen as a two tentacled approach over the rules governing the America's Cup. GGYC sought to clarify how a partnership between two teams could work together without compromising each other in terms of the America's Cup, and particularly being able to design, race and train together in the AC72 class.

Those responses from the Int Jury can now be seen to be applicable to the Oracle Racing and Ben Ainslie Racing relationship, as much as they were aimed at setting some controlling ground rules for the already announced Luna Rossa and Emirates Team New Zealand relationship.

The second Int Jury Decision, posted yesterday, governed the voting rights of second tier teams, or so-called minnows, who were competing in the America's Cup World Series only, and were not entered in the America's Cup Regatta. That decision said that only teams who were entered in the America's Cup Regatta could vote on matters concerning that event (ie the America's Cup Match and the Louis Vuitton Cup) and the AC72 class.

As a matter of interpretation the International Jury determined that the ACWS and America's Cup Regatta were, in fact, one series, but with a two tiered competition structure.

In other words all teams entered in the America's Cup Regatta had to enter the America's Cup World Series, but it was optional for the ACWS teams as to whether they paid the additional entry fee ($200,000), and substantial campaign costs (starring at $40million) to step up to the big league of the AC72's.

While that is a logical definition of the current America's Cup/World Series game, it remains to be seen as to how Ben Ainslie Racing and Royal Cornwall Yacht Club can jump the fence in the way that seems to be contemplated, where they trying to have their cake and eat it, too.

The whole scenario is of course might be predicated by Ben Ainslie not receiving a Racing Rule 69 sanction from either the Royal Yachting Association or the International Sailing Federation, over the contretemps which occurred in the final stages of the ISAF World Sailing Championships in the Finn class. The International Jury at the event banned the current world champion, and at that stage series leader, for the next two races, and he finished in 11th place overall.

The follow up procedure requires RYA and ISAF to receive a report on the incident and determine what other action and penalty may be appropriate.

The press conference to announce Ben Ainslie Racing will start at approximately 1000 GMT on Tuesday 10 Jan and will run for 30-45 minutes. Once the press conference is over, a replay will be looped for 24 hours.

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