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Gladwell's Line: Laser punch-up..Kiwis firing in Palma..Fake news hurts Cup

by Richard Gladwell, Sail-World.com/nz 5 Apr 06:13 PDT 6 April 2019
The America's Cup - "a perpetual Challenge Cup for friendly competition between foreign countries" © Scott Stallard

The America's Cup is never far from being centre stage in Sail-World's coverage - as it has a massive following both in the sailing and also mainstream media.

That has its downsides as we saw on Tuesday, with 3News breaking a story claiming that the three late Challengers would not make the start line for the 2021 America's Cup.

To some that appears to be a sensational headline, but students of America's Cup history would quickly tell you that an even more remarkable headline would be "All Challengers will make the start line for the 2021 America's Cup."

We don't have to look back too far to see that the first two Challengers of Record for the 2017 America's Cup had pulled out by April 2015 - more than two years before the start of the 35th Match.

The same happened in the previous Cup when the Challenger of Record Club Nautico di Roma (Mascalzone Latino) pulled out in 2011 ahead of the 34th America's Cup.

And then there was the ongoing saga of teams who had ostensibly entered the 2013 America's Cup, were sailing on the America's Cup World Series, and began to drop by the wayside, until the gate was dropped completely when the International Jury ruled that only bona fide entrants could vote on America's Cup Match matters.

Ten teams lined up for the 2011/12 series and 12 for the 2012/13 ACWS - those numbers watered down to be just four teams in the 2013 America's Cup. One of which was the hapless Artemis Racing, and the other Luna Rossa which while better prepared was still not at the level of the Challenger and Defender. For all its teams falling by the wayside, the 34th America's Cup in San Francisco was still one of the most thrilling and awesome events seen in sailing. While it looked good on TV, on the water, the noise and spectacle were unforgettable.

Quite why New Zealand media insist on running America's Cup stories based on sources they can't reveal, who won't front up - and yet the outlet won't even take a few minutes to pick up a phone, or hit a keyboard and talk to the people involved in the teams to check the veracity of their information.

Within 24 hours, two of the Late Entry teams had issued comment saying they were still in the America's Cup game. Emirates Team New Zealand made their views known very quickly, too.

So what is the point of the story - other than to put a sensational spin on an event which is historically likely to happen, and to point the bone at three new teams who are trying to get traction?

Dropping such stories into the public purview at this time is incredibly damaging for the teams who are trying to gear up in a very challenging phase of the 36th America's Cup.

Cup fans outside New Zealand are probably unaware that many Kiwi news outlets are controlled by two organisations, each of which are run out of a common newsroom - and one erroneous story can quickly be passed to the other outlets of that organisation. Externally it looks like several news outlets are reporting an independent view of the story. But the reality is the same story has just been passed from desk to desk in the same newsroom and posted on what used be independent media but are now under common ownership - covering newspapers, radio stations, TV stations and websites.

At Sail-World it took us five minutes to check out the veracity of Tuesday's story. However to be honest we already knew the answer before we checked. We also know that a team's financial fortunes can improve very quickly - and even a well funded and fully functional team can be gone within a week.

Laser dust-up

Although we have only touched on it to date, there is a serious legal issue between the parties involved in the manufacture of the Laser class - as used in the Olympics since 1992 and the Laser Radial which replaced the Europe dinghy from 2008 Olympics. The parties involved are the two builders, the International Laser Class Association (ILCA)and now the European ILCA - who claims to have 70% of the Laser sailors as its members.

The timing could not have been worse, with the single-handed dinghy trials for the 2024 Olympic having just concluded in Valencia, and a recommendation due to be made to the World Sailing Council at their Mid-Year meeting. Regardless of the outcome of the trials, the Laser was expected to be the front runner, because of the universal spread of the class around the world. It is also one of the cheapest of the Olympic classes.

From the outside, the Laser's current situation looks like one of those infamous all-in player punch-ups which so frequently occur in State-of-Origin (Australian Rugby League) , where the referee unsuccessfully tries to break up the maul, as more players run in to support their mates, trading punches as they join the affray.

The dispute is legally complex - we have spoken to several of the parties and seen a detailed statement from another. Plus have talked with a lawyer specialising in the copyright and trademark area, who also has a very sound sailing knowledge including of this case. He told us that the situation has been hanging over the class for at least a decade.

The International Laser Class Association triggered the ruckus when it terminated the building agreement with Laser Performance, the European builder . The latest move has been for the European Class Association (EurILCA) to weigh in, supporting the side of the Laser Performance.

As has been noted since World Sailing started reviewing the status of the current Olympic Equipments and Events, the Laser class as it was currently structured, would appear not to fit within World Sailing's FRAND ( Fair Reasonable and Non-Discriminative builder policy) more simply known as anti-trust regulations, for Olympic equipment.

In short, for the Laser to be selected for the 2024 Olympics, its builder model must change. And if World Sailing is going to be consistent, several other Olympic classes must also change to conform with the FRAND policy.

At the core of the Laser class difficulty is that two builder groups - Performance Sailcraft Australia and Performance Sailing Japan - hold the building licence and Laser trademark for Australia, New Zealand and Korea.

The other, Laser Performance Europe, holds the trademark rights for the rest of the World or 85% of the Laser market. LP also markets several other classes under the Laser name - Laser 4000, Laser 5000, Laser SB2 and others - which have nothing to do with ILCA, PSA or the Olympic regatta.

The International Laser Class Association is responsible for determining where World and other Internationally recognised Championships can be held (and thereby which of the two companies can supply), and administering the class for the owners.

Laser Performance claims it is the only builder entitled to supply Lasers for the 2024 Olympics. Our information is that World Sailing has stopped issuing building plaques to LP or accepting building plaque payments from the builder.

In essence, it is a battle of trademark versus copyright, building rights, and supply in various territories.

The good news is that all Lasers built to date and carrying official building plaques are bonafide Lasers and the existing fleet are protected. One real hurdle is who can supply Lasers for events such as Youth Worlds, Class Worlds and the Olympics.

The options are for this issue to go through a lengthy, expensive and protracted legal battle, or for a settlement to be reached either by agreement between the parties or by binding mediation.

For a more detailed analysis on SailingIllustrated.com click here

Kiwis on Olympic target in Palma

We are four days into the Trofeo Princesa Sofia Iberostar regatta for the Olympic classes. It is not part of the World Sailing Cup Series but is probably the most popular regatta for the Olympic classes in Europe.

New Zealand sailors are leading the Finn class, and are placed in the top ten overall in five of the ten Olympic events. World #1 ranked sailor, Sam Meech is recovering from knee surgery is not competing in Palma. But would have been likely to achieve a top ten finish - bringing the Kiwi total to six of the ten Olympic events - a very creditable result just over 12 months out from the Olympics.

The rule of thumb for Olympic medals is that a crew needs to be in the top five in the world order (be it a regatta like Palma, or the Worlds/Europeans) and then about half of those crews should convert to Olympic medals. So at this stage, the Kiwi team would appear to be tracking well for three medals at Enoshima 2020.

RS Feva Nationals

The NZ Nationals for the RS Feva class were sailed from Torbay last weekend, attracting a fleet of 36 boats - who were tested in the 15-20kt sea breeze that prevailed for the regatta. The class drew a spread of sailors from former Olympic class world champions to those obviously in their first year of sailing together. All considered the standard of sailing was impressive. As would be expected in such conditions capsizes were frequent, but importantly the crews could recover using their own resources - and usually quite quickly - which is a tribute to the forgiving RS Feva design.

The top crew from the regatta gets a free boat charter at the next World Championship, where four Kiwi entries are expected to attend.

Good sailing!

Richard Gladwell
NZ Editor

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