Damage to America’s Cup Exceeds Team Penalty

Published on September 3rd, 2013

By Craig Leweck, Scuttlebutt
As the America’s Cup International Jury navigated the rules and facts that pertained to the illegal modifications of the Oracle Team USA AC45s during the America’s Cup World Series, it was clear the penalty would be significant.

But I contend that today’s penalty does more damage to the America’s Cup than it did to the offending team.

The jury today docked Oracle Team USA two points in the America’s Cup Match, fined the team US$250,000, and banned a leading crew member from the regatta and excluded another from taking part in the first four races.

There were three rules in play:

AC45 one design class rules
Oracle Team USA clearly broke the class rules by adding weight and altering boat parts without the approval of class measurers. For these infractions, the team voluntarily dropped out of the races in which the illegal boats competed.

Protocol, Article 60: Protecting the Reputation of the America’s Cup
This provision covers some ground, but its purpose was to insure that actions by those involved in the event did not negatively impact fan interest or the investment of commercial partners. My estimate was for a fine of $500,000, which would have been considered significant in the landscape of sports fines.

Rule 69: Gross Misconduct
Purposely altering boats, in conflict of the rules, deserved suspensions. I did not know what reach the jury would have for suspending people at this time, but I hoped they would be able to sit anyone determined to be involved.

Given the jury’s decision, I see the fine as too low, the suspensions as too few, and the points penalty as excessive. How can the mistake from one event (arguably a promotional event) impact the competitive outcome of a separate, unrelated event? But the Protocol allowed the Jury to do it, and now the 34th America’s Cup has an asterisk that stains this edition.

Team CEO Russell Coutts does not dispute that his team screwed up, but is floored by the decision today. “Certainly it was misguided for some of the team to alter the boats without referring to the one design class rules,” he admitted. “But it is an absolute atrocity for the whole team to be penalized in this fashion. I even argue the Jury overreached in their use of Article 60. But it is what it is, and we now have to go out and win 11 races.”

My hope now is that this penalty does not affect the event outcome. That is the only way for the 34th Match to be saved for the fans, and quite possibly, from the lawyers.

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