by Patrick H. Moore

A lot of folks love a winner and nearly everyone loves to win. That desire to win, however, is a good servant but a bad master as Oracle Team USA has discovered on the eve of the America’s Cup regatta by getting itself targeted in a cheating investigation. A key Team Oracle sailor and two shore crewmen have been booted. The team has been fined $250,000 and docked two points before the regatta has even begun.

According to David Strege of Industry News, it is being described as the harshest set of penalties in the 162-year history of America’s Cup.

team5At the end of its four-week investigation, the jury found that Larry Ellison’s Oracle team made illegal modifications to prototype boats used in America’s Cup World Series warm-up regattas last year and earlier this year. For those of you who are sailors, the “engineering team” added weights to the forward king posts and extended the post. This took the boat out of the strict one-design rule, according to Yachts and Yachting and the San Jose Mercury News. Trying to grab an advantage with a little misplaced ingenuity.

The two-point penalty is a killer. It mean’s that Oracle Team USA must win 11 races to retain the oldest trophy in international sports while the worthy competition, Team New Zealand, must only win nine races in the best-of-17 series. The historic regatta begins on Saturday in San Francisco Bay.

Oracle Team USA CEO Russell Coutts was not happy with the decision calling it “grossly unfair.”

team6“It sets a bizarre precedent as to the future,” Coutts told the Mercury News. “If a few individuals on a team commit a rules breach, the whole team gets penalized for it. Without the knowledge of management and skippers, the whole team gets penalized…

“We’ve got penalized two points in the match for something that a few of our sailors did on an AC45 more than a year ago without the knowledge or approval of management or the skippers. I think it’s an outrageous decision.”

Team Oracle’s brain trust — CEO Russell Coutts, skipper Jimmy Spithill and tactician John Kostecki, were not implicated in the scandal which involved 45-foot catamarans that were prototypes for the 72-footers being sailed in the America’s Cup.

Dirk de Ridder, who trims the wing sail on the high-performance, 72-foot catamaran, is barred from sailing in the regatta.

Coutts said de Ridder “has been a fantastic team member and a fantastic sailor for many, many years. I think all the decisions are incredibly harsh. I don’t think the evidence supported the jury’s decision.”

Not to be outdone, the jury was equally vehement in handing out the penalties and was “fuming at the team for having brought the sport into disrepute,” according to Yachts and Yachting.

team2“The seriousness of the breaches cannot be understated,” the jury stated. “The Chairman of the Measurement Committee when asked how did he feel when he found what had occurred stated in the hearing ‘I felt old, used and stupid … our trust in the team had been betrayed, trust had been abused. If we can’t deal in an atmosphere of a certain amount of trust, we simply cannot do our job.’ This comment exemplifies the concerns expressed by a number of experienced America’s Cup sailors, OTUSA management, and indeed the Jury.”

The harsh penalties mean Oracle Team USA not only needs to win two more races than Team New Zealand to win the cup—an incredible disadvantage—but must quickly work on gelling as a team with replacement crew members.

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teamMajor blunder but some may secretly admire that sailor’s ingenuity displayed by Oracle Team guys on the sly. And it’s probably inevitable — not unlike PEDs, only here it’s the boat rather than the athlete being modified. Without moralizing on the issue, I would simply say that breaking the rules to gain an advantage is part of sport now — whether it’s baseball and PEDs, football with its medicine chest of additives, bicycle racing with blood doping or man modifying his machines to make them fly a little higher.



2 Responses to Oracle Team USA Hit with Harshest Penalties in the History of America’s Cup

  1. Peter Prasad says:

    Might Team New Zealand pull up and gve the first two wins to Oracle in order to level the playing field? There are many ways for gentlemen to play at this. The sentence is too harsh. Once again, judges throw their weight around to the detriment of the game.

    • PatrickHMoore says:

      A brilliant and sportsmanlike solution, Sir Peter. And New Zealand needs to make up for deporting the large South African chef simply because he weighed a few stone too many. This is a golden opportunity for them to set things right.

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