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America's Cup: Challengers split emerges over wind limits and Match Conditions

by Richard Gladwell Sail-World NZ 9 Jan 02:13 PST 9 January 2020
Emirates Team New Zealand's AC75 - January 10, 2020 © Richard Gladwell / Sail-World.com

Several developments have occurred in the past 24hours in the stoush over the wind limits and Match Conditions for the 36th America's Cup Regattas, revealing a split amongst the Challenger group.

Earlier this morning (Thursday NZT), Emirates Team New Zealand posted a clarification of the next steps in the wind limits/match conditions dispute with Luna Rossa (ITA) the Challenger of Record.

"Emirates Team New Zealand was therefore very surprised to learn that the current stance of the Challenger of Record in relation to wind limits does not reflect the collective position of all Challengers," the statement said.

The Kiwi Defenders appear to be relying on Article 1.2 of the Protocol governing the conduct of the 36th America's Cup Match and its preliminary regattas.

The vital Protocol phrase says: "The Initial Challenger of Record shall represent all challengers whose notices of challenge are accepted..." .

The Kiwi Defender's view of "represent" seems to be that it implies that the Italian Challenger has consulted with the other eligible Challengers before putting forward a Challenger stance on a particular issue in negotiations that the Challenger of Record has with the Defender.

Overnight another of the so-called "Superteams", in the 36th America's Cup, Team INEOS UK, confirmed to Sail-World NZ that the comments made by NYYC American Magic CEO/Skipper, Terry Hutchinson in an interview published in The Washington Post are "factually correct".

In the interview published on Tuesday (NZT), the CEO/Skipper of the New York Yacht Club team told AP's Bernie Wilson that NYYC American Magic was unhappy to read various reports that said it and INEOS Team UK had any say in the matter of Match Conditions.

"To be crystal clear, these decisions are between the Challenger of Record and Defender, and we have zero say in it,' Hutchinson told AP.

ETNZ appears to be saying they assumed ( as would be expected) that COR would have taken a position that was supported by the other Challengers.

Last December 23, an Emirates Team New Zealand rules adviser, Russell Green, told Sail-World.com that wind limits were the only point of disagreement between COR/D in the Match Conditions.

As Defender, Emirates Team NZ goes straight through to the Match for the right to be the next Defender of the most prestigious trophy in sailing.

The statement issued by the New Zealand team, and published on their website reads, in full: Principally due to a disagreement over Wind Limits for racing in Auckland, the Match Conditions were unable to be agreed with the Challenger of Record by the due date of December 20 2019. As required by the Protocol, the issue has now been referred to the Arbitration Panel for mediation between the Defender and Challenger of Record. A successful mediation will require agreement between the Parties but if unsuccessful then the Protocol requires the Arbitration Panel to make a decision on the issues of disagreement by March 20 2020.

By way of background, the America's Cup Deed of Gift requires racing rules and conditions to be agreed by mutual consent between the Defender and Challenger but with the modern-day America's Cup involving multi challengers this is modified by the Protocol under which all teams enter. Under the AC 36 Protocol, the Challenger of Record has the responsibility to represent all Challengers and that responsibility involves consulting with other Challengers before taking a position with the Defender on issues such as race conditions.

The Defender does not deal with the other Challengers direct on such issues but works on the basis that the Challenger of Record is presenting the collective position of the Challengers when undertaking such negotiations, not just the view of its own sailing team, Luna Rossa. In fact, in the various negotiations Emirates Team New Zealand has had with the Challenger of Record there have been many practical examples where the COR has made specific reference to the views of the other Challengers when taking a particular stance.

Emirates Team New Zealand was therefore very surprised to learn that the current stance of the Challenger of Record in relation to wind limits does not reflect the collective position of all Challengers. The Defender's position on the Wind Limits is what is needed to ensure a quality event in Auckland for the benefit of the New Zealand public, international visitors and the world audience.

Self interest always running

The question of wind limits and how they should be measured is a piece of vital information to both designers and sailing crews.

Wind limits are almost always a contentious issue in the America's Cup as is the history of a Challenger of Record acting in self-interest, instead of promoting the will of the majority of the Challengers.

Indeed it is unusual to find a Challenger of Record putting their best interest to one side, and abide with a democratic decision of the majority of the Challengers.

The 2013 America's Cup was the most blatant example, where the Challenger of Record, Artemis Racing on several occasions sided with Defender, leaving the two Challengers - Emirates Team New Zealand and Luna Rossa - to make their case from the other end of the Jury Room table.

In the 2017 America's Cup, after the withdrawal of the original Challenger of Record, Hamilton Island Yacht Club, Luna Rossa and their club, succeeded to the role. Luna Rossa generously offered to place their right, as Challenger of Record, to approve all rule changes in the hands of a Challenger Committee.

No good turn goes unpunished in the America's Cup, and nine months later the Challenger Committee decided to switch the boat from an AC62 to the smaller AC50 catamaran.

Team New Zealand and Luna Rossa both opposing, were in the minority, and the Italian team withdrew from further participation in the regatta, over two years before it started.

Despite the Defender's action in making a statement clarifying its position, essentially the "represent" issue is one for the Challengers themselves to address, and any further moves will have to come from within that group.

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