One Small Step for Alinghi…

Might be a giant step for America’s Cup racing – or it might not.... Alinghi appeared to blink first in their stand-off with Oracle Racing over the Protocol for the 33rd America’s Cup, when on Friday they announced that they were making some changes to the disputed Protocol, after discussions with the Arbitration Panel and those competitors that have already entered.

The Société Nautique de Genève (SNG) and Alinghi’s announcement came with an appeal to BMW Oracle Racing and the Golden Gate Yacht Club (GGYC) to lay down their weapons – the court case due to be heard on the 22nd October – and enter the event under the new Protocol. They reckon that the changes address many of the issues raised by GGYC, and Alinghi skipper Brad Butterworth referred to recent discussions with Russell Coutts, Oracle’s skipper.

The changes to the Protocol are:

The power to disqualify a competitor has been clarified so that should a competitor refuse to be bound by the Protocol, they now have recourse to the Arbitration Panel before they can be thrown out.

America’s Cup Management (ACM) can now only refuse entry to the event on specific grounds – such as capacity at the venue.

There are changes to the power of ACM to amend the Protocol in relation to the Arbitration Panel, and these changes must now be subjected to Arbitration Panel approval first. ACM no longer have the power to remove members of the Arbitration Panel.

The ‘neutral management’ has been changed so that the Fair Sailing rule is extended to apply to all matters directly related to the regatta.

If you want to decide for yourself if this will keep BMW Oracle from the court, they list their issues with the 33rd Protocol in their media backgrounder here...

Or you can cut to the chase and go straight to an article on the Guardian website, where Tom Ehman (Head of External Affairs for BMW Oracle Racing) is quoted as saying that ‘We welcome some new points, but the changes are largely cosmetic and do not address the central issues.’ Ehman added that GGYC will not be withdrawing the court case on the basis of these amendments, and they want to negotiate a settlement directly with SNG.

So it looks like we will rumble on towards the day in court for now - whether or not this first step closer to a negotiated settlement will be followed up with more remains to be seen. Presumably GGYC are now in a better position to judge the strength of the SNG case, as they had to file their papers with the court last week. Alinghi appear to have posted these documents on their website here. As I believe I've mentioned before, if I wanted to read this stuff myself, I'd have taken law classes...

Meanwhile, United Internet Team Germany, one of those teams who have entered under the current Protocol, have got their man - Jochen Schuemann has left Alinghi to lead the German challenge. Schuemann had been sailing director at Alinghi for the last two Cups. But his absence from the race boat in the 32rd Match against Team New Zealand hinted at a coming departure. There's an interview with Schuemann on BYM.

Schuemann is joined by Jason Ker, the Brit who was chief designer at Team Shosholoza, the South African entry in the last event. Porsche and Audi have put their money down as sponsors, and the team has bought one of the Alinghi boats - SUI-91. There’s a report on the press conference on the Valencia Sailing blogspot.

And earlier last week, ACM doled out the 66.5 million euro profit from the previous America’s Cup. ACM take a ten percent cut as a management fee (this is after all the costs have been deducted from the gross of 240 million euros), then 45% goes to Alinghi, and the rest is shared between the challengers. ACM state that Emirates Team New Zealand will receive over nine million euros as the Challenger, while those teams that didn’t make the semi-finals will be making do with just over a million each - not quite enough to hire a top flight skipper then...?

Mark Chisnell ©