March 28: The America’s Cup saga has given rise to much speculation and comment and, inevitably, BYM News has become aware of this.
We put some of the unanswered questions to BMW Oracle’s Tom Ehman, by e-mail.
BYM: It’s no secret that Ernesto Bertarelli and Russell Coutts are not exactly the best of friends, to put it mildly. Do you think much of BMW Oracle’s inability to reach a compromise with Alinghi is really down to that?
Tom Ehman: This whole issue is much bigger than personalities. Russell is a professional sportsman at the top of his field. He can compromise or work with anyone, including Ernesto. In fact the compromise we did offer to Alinghi after we had won in court was endorsed by four other syndicates as more than reasonable. And Grant Dalton has since gone public saying it was entirely unreasonable of Alinghi to reject it. We also offered the names of ten mediators – all respected figures in international sport – to sit down and sort this out with Alinghi directly. But Alinghi rejected all of them. The real issue here is the protocol that Ernesto tried to impose on the event. This was condemned by seven syndicates as grossly one-sided at the time, and we have been fighting for a fair event ever since.
BYM: This appears to be a no win situation all round for you. If you agree to Alinghi’s 2009 date you lessen your chances of winning and if you get the October 2008 date that you want, Larry Ellison could well go down in AC history as the man who couldn’t win the America’s Cup in a fair fight. How would he feel about that?
Tom Ehman: On the contrary. This will be a win situation for nearly everyone if it means we can resolve all this cleanly on the water as soon as possible and get on with a conventional event. As to Alinghi asserting it is not a “fair fight,” their recent protestations and posturing on this don’t really carry any weight. Back in December, Ernesto Bertarelli was confirming that Alinghi was preparing for a match in July 2008 – so why is it a different story now? Alinghi have admitted they never thought they might lose in court. Maybe that affected their sense of purpose in progressing their campaign.
BYM: You said in a recent radio interview “when we do race it will be in magnificent, HUGE multihulls, 90-foot multihulls, they'll actually be 90 feet on the waterline and longer than that overall. And if they build a good boat, and I'm confident - we are in fact are building a big maxi multihull - this could be one very exciting America's Cup.”
Alinghi has told us, categorically, that they have not started to build a boat, so can there really be an exciting match in October 2008?
Tom Ehman: No one knows where Alinghi are at with their campaign, but four months ago Ernesto was saying he was getting ready for a July 2008 race. They started hiring multihull experts last year. But these facts aren’t the point. The rules of the contest are quite clear. Both teams are given the same time to prepare. If one now chooses to say that they have not managed to get ready…well, you have to ask them why not? And why should they be allowed to hold up the whole event up for everybody all over again? It is the first time a defender has said, ‘please give us more time because we might not do very well.’ No more delays and excuses -- let’s get on with the racing.
BYM: I’m no lawyer, but the way I read Justice Cahn’s last document, he sees the date of a DoG match as being that of your original challenge. This conflict seems to be heading back to court and there must be a strong possibility that Cahn will say “It’s July, get on with it.” That would see you with an untested giant and Alinghi with some existing, much smaller multi that had been modified to fit DoG requirements. Isn’t that a recipe for a completely farcical match?
Tom Ehman: Not necessarily. As I say, we don’t know where Alinghi really are at with their campaign, although they have acknowledged they started on their program last year – at about the same time we did. But the issue is simple. You have a sports contest with clear rules. Now one of the competitors says they have not prepared and they want the rules changed and the whole event delayed. Imagine if before the last football World Cup the Italians or the French had said they wanted the final postponed because they didn’t feel they were ready. If you are the America’s Cup holder you have to follow the rules and compete just like anyone else. Their claims about not being ready look like just another gambit to create more delay.
BYM: There’s no doubt that, in September 2007, everyone agreed that tolling would be the right thing to do and they obviously took it seriously, because it was agreed in front of Justice Cahn. I understand the document wasn’t signed because the parties couldn’t agree over 10 or 12 months, but if the document had been signed you’d now be looking at a 2009 match. What happened, since last September, to make you change your mind about tolling?
Tom Ehman: The proposals about tolling were not signed for the very good reason that the parties did not agree. Alinghi have known this all along. Back in September we made a genuine offer, reasonable at the time given the circumstances. The defender chose to reject it. That’s where the matter ended. The defender can’t come back now and say “Oh, let’s rewind the tape because we didn’t win in court after all, and we would now like to accept that earlier offer.” Talk about moving the goalposts! And 2009 would only mean more delay for everyone.
BYM: It was interesting to see that your sailing team didn’t include any top big multihull names, despite your involvement with Franck Cammas, who has said he might helm for you.
Is your preference for October, because Cammas and crew will be unavailable in July, because of the run up to the Quebec to St Malo race with Groupama 2?
Tom Ehman: After Justice Cahn ruled in November we offered Alinghi another 10 months from then, hence the October dates. We keep our word. October has nothing to do with anything other than that. It complies with the Deed of Gift, and gives both teams time to get ready and it is still soon enough to move the Cup forward.
BYM: A major stumbling block over your final compromise proposal to Alinghi appears to have been cost cutting – in particular, two boat testing and sail allowances. If BMW Oracle were to become the Defender, for AC 34, what – if any - steps would it take to help generate a more competitive event by rules that will lessen costs for teams that have to mainly rely on sponsorship?
Tom Ehman: If we were to win we would be focused on an event that did not give an unfair advantage to the Defender, and that includes a realistic approach to cutting costs as well as giving all teams better opportunities to raise sponsorship revenue.
BYM: Finally, you’ve said you would hold AC 34 in Valencia, but many people believe it would end up in California. Can you comment?
Tom Ehman: We are on record in writing to His Majesty King Juan Carlos, the central government, the regional President and the Mayor of Valencia that, if successful in AC 33 (which we also wish to have Alinghi hold in Valencia), we would hold AC 34 in Valencia given similar assurances from the hosts as with AC32. Russell Coutts and I have echoed that commitment time and again. We think it makes great sense for our sport, the Cup, the teams, and Spain and Valencia which have so whole-heartedly supported the Cup. It would be all but impossible to get a new venue ready in California by 2011 (we’d like to do AC 34 even sooner if possible) anywhere close to as good as we now have in Valencia.