Ellison Hires Coutts, SNG Fires Back (Sort of)

Ellison, with new skipper and CEO Russell Coutts, outlines his hopes for the 33rd America's Cup. While he doesn't wish to take his beef with Alinghi to the New York State Courts, he isn't afraid to do so.

AC07_0724_Ellison

Gilles Martin-raget/bmw Oracle Racing

On Tuesday morning, the Societe Nautique de Geneve fired its first return shot in what is shaping up to be an acrimonious battle with BMW Oracle Racing and the Golden Gate YC over the future of the America's Cup. In a press release sent out by America's Cup Management, SNG vice commodore Fred Meyer said: "It is disappointing that the GGYC appears to be devoting its energies to disrupting and damaging the America's Cup by attempting to secure an exclusive match for the trophy having failed to obtain the right to challenge through normal competition on two successive attempts, first in the 31st and then the 32nd America's Cup. The GGYC is attempting to hold the event hostage to its demands for a private match race in catamarans and the SNG will never negotiate with GGYC under these circumstances and, as trustee of the Cup, will strongly defend all attempts by the GGYC to disrupt and damage the America's Cup."There wasn't much wait for a response from BMW Oracle Racing, which had previously scheduled a press conference for Tuesday, 5 p.m. local time, with Larry Ellison. The surprise of the press conference, though it has been rumored for months, was the presence of Russell Coutts alongside Ellison. The three-time winner of the America's Cup, and former Alinghi skipper, is the new CEO/skipper of BMW Oracle Racing. Unfortunately for the media not in attendance, the audio feed was garbled for the first 10 minutes of the press conference, so we missed Coutts explaining how excited he is to take this job. Not surprisingly, he also supports his new boss in their fight against the protocol currently in place for the 33rd America's Cup. "I believe that the position BMW Oracle has is a strong one and the correct one," Coutts said.Much of the rest of the press conference focused on the logic behind Ellison's rogue challenge, which contests the validity of the current challenger of record, Club Nautico Español de Vela, and wields the threat of a 3-race series in 90-foot catamarans next summer as leverage to get Alinghi to renegotiate a protocol that, according to Ellison, most of the challengers from the last Cup feel is unfair and unlikely to produce a contest that anyone outside of Alinghi can win."I would like to see it here in Valencia," said Ellison. "I feel strongly this is the right place for the Cup."We had a meeting of all of the challengers a 2 p.m. today about these issues, the litigation and the associated uncertainties surrounding the litigation and I think we got a pretty broad agreement among the challengers. The outcome we'd like is to negotiate a reasonable protocol with Alinghi. No one wants to see this go to court. Our goal is to have a reasonable protocol with Alinghi. But you must understand-if you haven't read the protocol, you must read the protocol. The protocol says that if Alinghi doesn't like a challenger they may throw that challenger out of the Cup for any reason at their sole discretion. We think that's both unreasonable and unfair."Ellison went out to outline other problems with the protocol including the fact that Alinghi gets to pick the umpires and jury, that Alinghi will be able to sail in the challenger series, and that Alinghi will be solely responsible for the new design rule and will be able to change it at any time.While Ellison and the GGYC have previously said they would like the 33rd Cup to be sailed in the ACC boats, today he said he thinks lighter-displacement 90-footers would be good for the Cup and that now he and challengers are merely hoping to have their say in the new design. Ellison mentioned that he has been in contact with Alinghi head Ernesto Bertarelli, and that it wasn't a productive conversation.The BMW Oracle syndicate head also said that if the courts force Alinghi and BMW Oracle racing to battle next summer in 90-foot catamarans, and BMW Oracle wins, the next Cup contest would be in Valencia in 2009.During the past two America's Cups, Ellison has seemed quite willing to assume the role of the brash, wealthy American. He hasn't worried extensively about his image, or that of his campaign. However, Ellison, who does occasionally stumble over his words, spoke with clarity and conviction today. The 62-year-old billionaire came across as a man just looking for a fair shake, a man who cares about the competition, about the momentum that's been built up, about making the Cup something that the sport of sailing can really take pride in. Of course, if he has to drag sailing's most famous trophy back through the New York State Court system to do so, he isn't afraid of that, either. But in the battle of sailing public opinion, Ellison finds himself in a rather rare position. He's winning. Bertarelli, on the other hand, has been silent on the issue and despite the fact that three challengers, Desafio Español (through the CNEV), South Africa's Team Shosholoza, and Great Britain's TeamOrigin, have officially challenged for the 33rd America's Cup, it appears his Alinghi syndicate has a tough road ahead of it and, win or lose, may take the brunt of the blame for whatever legal shenanigans lay in the near future.