America's Cup: Emirates Team NZ queries basis of Challenger selection

Emirates Team NZ CEO, Grant Dalton talks with TVNZ’s Martin Tasker

On Friday evening (NZT) Emirates Team New Zealand issued a media release advising that it sought to clarify the selection of the Challenger of Record for the 34th America's Cup.

The twice winner of the America's Cup, has lodged the query with the International Jury, the proper body for determining such issues. Team New Zealand's club, the Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron, is also one of the Trustees of the America's Cup - the only one of the challengers with this distinction.

The circumstances of the complaint are that on 12th May 2011, Vicenzo Onorato head of Mascalzone Latino issued a statement saying that he was no longer proceeding with a putting together a team to Challenge for the America's Cup, due to insufficient sponsorship. In the time remaining until the 34th America's Cup the Italian shipping magnate said he would not be able to mount a competitive Challenge.

It is believed that at the time Onorato issued his statement that the Club Nautico di Roma (which is actually the Challenger since the America's Cup is sailed between yacht clubs, rather than teams) did not know that he was about to withdraw.

That left Club Nautico do Roma, in the situation where it was still the Challenger of Record, but did not have a sailing team.

Its options were threefold - either it could find a new Italian team; or it could continue as Challenger of record even though it did not have a team; or it could withdraw and a new Challenger of Record be appointed.

In the end after several days delay (due in part, it is believed, to the delay in locating the newly elected Commodore of the Swedish club KSSS) CNdR elected to fall on its sword.

A new Challenger of Record Sweden's KSSS (Kungliga Svenska Segel Sällskapet), the club of Artemis Racing, was announced in a two-part statement advising of the withdrawal of CNdR and the appointment of KSSS.

On the surface, so far so good.

One issue believed to be placed in front of the International Jury is that Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron lodged a Challenge very close to the opening time of entries for the 34th America's Cup.

It was claimed that the club was a premature starter, in that their email arrived a few seconds ahead of the opening time for entries and was not accepted. By the time the RNZYS email had been re-sent a Challenge had been lodged by KSSS and that was the second Challenge after CNdR's original Challenge. (CNdR's Challenge was accepted in February 2010 immediately after Golden Gate Yacht Club won the 33rd America's Cup.)

Under the 19th century Deed of Gift that governs the conduct of the America's Cup, the Challenges must be dealt with in order of receipt.

Given the withdrawal of the first Challenger, it falls to the second Challenger to become Challenger of Record, and agree the basic terms of the match, which is usually conducted under mutual consent.

In some circles this role is regarded as a poison chalice, since no Challenger of Record, in a multi-challenger regatta, has ever won the America's Cup. Further the role does involve some administration overhead, which is easier for some than others.

Clearly it is believed by Emirates Team NZ that (a) they could have been the second Challenger and (b) that given their club's past experience with the America's Cup - both as a Defender and Challenger they are in a better position to be a Challenger or Record than the KSSS of Sweden, which has challenged three times previously.

Under the Protocol for the 34th America's Cup, agreed between Golden Gate Yacht Club and Club Nautico di Roma, the Defender and Challenger of Record must agree on changes made to the Protocol, or the rules governing the conduct of the event.

The Challengers themselves, while entitled to have a representative each at a Competitors Forum, have no real say in the conduct of the regatta, or changes in rules.

The current process works if the two clubs work together in a benign dictatorship - listening to the concerns of the Challengers and only making rule changes under a consensus model. However that is not the way the current Protocol is written. It doesn't work for Emirates Team New Zealand either, as the most experienced and successful America's Cup team in a Competitors Forum they could be completely marginalised , and out-voted by a large number of first time teams playing for time, reduced financial outlay, or both.

Clearly Emirates Team NZ feel that the relationship between the Challenger and Defender is altogether too cosy. They also would seem to believe that the Swedish club may not have, in fact been the second Challenger.

Now that Emirates Team NZ are a confirmed challenger (they were initially an 'unannounced challenge') they may not be prepared to operate in an environment where the rules are controlled by two teams backed by billionaires, and where the heads of those teams, Paul Cayard and Russell Coutts were previously collaborators in the World Sailing League.

The WSL competition was promoted by Coutts and Cayard, while the America's Cup was controlled by the Swiss Defender Société Nautique de Genève (Team Alinghi) and their puppet Challenger Club Nautico Espanol de Vela (ESP). The competition proposed by Cayard and Coutts was for an event sailed in 70ft multihulls - much the same as the yacht to be used for the 34th America's Cup.

Should Emirates Team NZ be successful in their complaint to the International Jury, it is believed that their club, RNZYS would take a much harder line on rule changes than the Swedish KSSS.

The next Competitors Forum is due to be held on Monday.

The media statement issued by Emirates Team NZ is as follows:

Emirates Team New Zealand is asking the America’s Cup jury to clarify the method of selecting the Challenger of Record for the 34th America’s Cup.

Mascalzone Latino, the original Challenger of Record, announced on May 12 that it could not proceed with its challenge. Golden Gate Yacht Club appointed the Swedish team Artemis to fill the role which involves representing all challengers in negotiations with race management.

Emirates Team New Zealand managing director Grant Dalton said that with so much public money and sponsorship involved in the New Zealand challenge it was reasonable to seek clarification on how Artemis was selected.

Dalton likened the move to a rugby team going to the referees’ association to get clarification of a change to the rules of rugby.

'We can see circumstances arising where the smaller commercial teams could be disadvantaged by the marriage between these two ‘super powers’ – Oracle as the Defender and Artemis as the Challenger of Record.

'The team is seeking clarification now rather than waiting for that to happen.'