Yesterday, Team New Zealand's Grant Dalton talked to BYM News about the team's court actions against Alinghi, SNG, ACM & Ernesto Bertarelli.
Today, March 10, 2008, CEO Michel Hodara gives ACM's reaction.
BYM. Were you surprised by Team New Zealand’s legal action?
Michel Hodara. Not exactly surprised, because Grant has been talking about this since last November, but the fact that it came out of the blue and some of the details surprised us.
BYM. It wasn’t quite out of the blue, was it? Grant says TNZ wrote to Ernesto about this, last year, and the letter was ignored. Why was that?
Michel Hodara. Several communications were sent that referred to the potential damage for TNZ. For sure no letter was ignored internally. Possibly no formal answer was made to one.
But what I mean by from out of the blue is that we are three months later and closer to news (i.e. court order) than ever and Dalton attacks with not only a so-called breach of contract, but also with an anti trust suit. It looks like he has been pushed into this.
BYM. Someone posted on the Sailing Anarchy America’s Cup forum. “The timing of the TNZ action is a brilliant piece of ambush on Alinghi/SNG: it almost feels like a move planned with Uncle Larry to open up a second front on Alinghi." Is that your feeling?
Michel Hodara. Well, obviously that has to cross anyone’s mind.
BYM. How does Ernesto Bertarelli feel about the fact that he loaned TNZ €7 million to keep the team going after the 2003 America’s Cup and now they are suing him personally as well as the companies?
Michel Hodara. That’s not easy for any of us to take on board. You know it didn’t stop with that loan either. After the New Zealand boat got damaged at Marseille, when the wind blew it over, ACM organised the financing of shipping the second boat by plane from New Zealand so they could keep racing in Valencia and subsequently win the 2004 Season Trophy. Also ACM was alongside ETNZ to help them secure local sponsorship. To conclude, the final reimbursement of the loan was made thanks to the net surplus distributed by ACM to the competitors. Hard facts which are proving Alinghi is not here to eliminate the competition!
BYM. You told BYM months ago, at the start of all this “I believe the text of the protocol is right, but the perception isn’t.” Obviously TNZ’s perception hasn’t changed because they are still saying it gives Alinghi an unfair advantage? Dalton is also still questioning how much of an advantage the new boat gives you.
Michel Hodara. It is highly surprising they say that now, while they actively took part to all the competitors meetings from September until November to define the class rule, the competition regulations and the event regulations. They signed off on each of these and they contributed to convince BOR that the choice of displacement offer to the challengers was enough to negate any so-called head start.
BYM. You seem to have had some special arrangement with Team New Zealand over its entering AC 33. Was that simply because as Dalton said “Emirates Team New Zealand is the major brand in the Cup, if you like, or one of the top brands and is important to the Cup to have Team New Zealand in it.”?
Michel Hodara. Sure it is important to have a team like ETNZ entering the event. No team however should overestimate its importance. It is true we confirmed different elements to ETNZ which were not public then, such as the location of Valencia for the AC in 2009.
We also confirmed the competition would be a ONE boat racing, practicing, etc. per team. It seemed important for the kiwis.
BYM. As I recall it, GGYC’s conditions for dropping the court case and having a conventional AC33 still included two boat testing?
Michel Hodara. They did indeed!
BYM. So why did Team New Zealand sign the letter asking you to “agree to BMWO’s reasonable proposal.”?
Michel Hodara. The letter signed by the challengers is not as clear as all other proposals from BOR with regard to the 2 boat sailing. Maybe this explains that. One thing is sure, on December 4, the latest proposal of BOR, the request for two boat testing is back.
BYM. Couldn’t you at the point have talked to BMWO and reached some sort of compromise?
Michel Hodara. There have been continuous talks. But, as we repeatedly said, BOR was changing the goal posts constantly and we never considered as “reasonable” the BOR counter proposal on our racing schedule agreed by all competitors.
BYM. Team New Zealand has had to lay off 25 people as a result of all this and Grant says, quite categorically, that it’s the result of the action of one man – Ernesto Bertarelli. What do you say?
Michel Hodara. Dalton misses totally the target. We had to lay off way more people than he had to. I feel sorry for all of them. The only ones who hire are BOR, the one who brought this whole thing to court. That was the real starting point for the problems.
BYM. Finally, I asked Grant Dalton “What could Ernesto Bertarelli do now, in the way of coming to you and saying ‘Look Grant, let’s sort this’ that would make you drop the court case?” He didn’t sound too hopeful, but he did add “But in the end, we’re yachtsmen, we’re not about litigation, that’s just a last resort. We just want to get back on the water, as soon as that is practically possible.”
That last bit seems to give a glimmer of hope and it’s, certainly, what just about everyone wants - you, the other challengers, the fans - so, I’ll ask you the same. Could and would Ernesto Bertarelli do something now, in the way of saying “Look Grant, let’s sort this” that might make TNZ drop the court cases?
Michel Hodara. Last resort of what? The result of this potential multi year lawsuit will not change ANYTHING on the sailing side. It only is about money; only.
Also, if you want to create a dialogue, not sure starting a lawsuit, sorry two lawsuits, is the best starting point.
BYM. Thanks, Michel, for talking to BYM News.