Former TNZ Trustees Answer Coutts, Butterworth

The former trustees of Team New Zealand fired back at Russell Coutts and Brad Butterworth today. In a statement released to the media and published verbatim in the New Zealand Herald, Sir Tom Clark, Roger France, Richard Green, Jim Hoare, and John Lusk accused Coutts and Butterworth of causing the disharmony that existed during the 2000 defense of the America's Cup and refuting many of the points the duo had made days earlier in a statement released by the Alinghi team and on the New Zealand talk news program Holmes."It was unacceptable to Sir Peter [Blake]," said the statement, "to the persons referred to as the former trustees (who also constituted the Board of Directors of Team New Zealand Limited) and to the sponsors, that Coutts and Butterworth would not accept Sir Peter as CEO." The release continued on to say that Coutts and Butterworth's disregard for the sponsors, which included Coutts wearing Team Magic clothing--his match-racing brand--to TNZ functions, drove a big wedge between them and the upper management of TNZ.Also included in the seven-page release was a signed agreement of "Mutual Understanding," which was dated Sept. 8, 1999. The agreement, which was signed by Coutts, Butterworth, Blake, former TNZ executive director Alan Sefton, and current TNZ syndicate head Tom Schnackenberg, sets out the team's objectives for the rest of that campaign and establishes the procedure for the turnover of the team to the new trustees and Coutts, Butterworth, and Schnackenberg. While the agreement is by no means a signed contract, something which former trustee France acknowledged in an article in today's New Zealand Herald, it does indicate that all the involved parties seemed to be on the same page just eight months before Coutts and Butterworth signed with Alinghi, and that Coutts and Butterworth were fully aware that the TNZ structure for the 2000 defense would remain in place until the end of June 2000, which was four months after Team New Zealand successfully defended the Cup.The statement did not specifically address Coutts' claims that he was, when the TNZ contracts expired on March 30, 2000, powerless to sign people and retain the core crew that had just blanked Prada 5-0. "The fact is that Coutts and Butterworth publicly confirmed they had an acceptable deal with the former trustees and sponsors on 31 March 2000," said the statement. "It should have been a straightforward matter to secure Team New Zealand personnel and the well-being of the team over the next week. Instead, Coutts and Butterworth promptly departed for Europe. On 17 April they reneged on the deal negotiated between their directions, the former directors, and the sponsors, which they had already accepted. Subsequently they agreed to sail for Ernesto Bertarelli."Of the two key financial sticking points, the trustees don't deny that they expected the Coutts and Butterworth TNZ syndicate to be responsible for both the $2.95 million debt owed to the four major cash sponsors and a $1.09 million contribution to the charitable trust. In fact, they say these two requirements were met by the existing TNZ board--many believe the debt to the sponsors was waived as part of the sponsorship agreement for the 2003 defense--but they also say that Coutts was informed of the potential obligations to the sponsors in the spring of 1998 and therefore was misrepresenting the facts when he said he was surprised, in March of 2000, to find that taking over TNZ meant also taking responsibility for these financial obligations.The statement closes by saying that the five trustees received "no reward or remuneration whatsoever" for their trustee duties and that "no person within the Team New Zealand organization, including Sir Peter Blake and all other senior executives, was engaged on terms which were out of line with the market."One point of Coutts that the statement does not address is his claim that he and Butterworth were not allowed to pursue sponsorship for 12 months. For the complete text of the statement by the former trustees,http://www.nzherald.co.nz/storydisplay.cfm?storyID=3099713