Russell Coutts press conference - Valencia - 13 January 2009
So close yet so far. That's how one could sum up the last-ditch talks that took place on Tuesday and Wednesday between Alinghi and BMW Oracle in Singapore, according to the challenger's CEO, Russell Coutts. The kiwi sailor expressed his surprise during the press conference in the team's base in Valencia about the divergence between Alinghi's representatives in the talks and "Geneva", although he never explicitly stated whether he was referring to Ernesto Bertarelli.
Russell Coutts in his opening statement expressed his disappointment that the discussions in Singapore didn't produce a mutual-consent settlement. It appears the talks were productive because according to him there were 3 different agreement drafts and at the end of both days there was an agreement "from all of the parties inside that meeting". All drafts were "acceptable" for Coutts, but on both days, "at the 11th hour", as he states, were rejected "by Geneva".
In particular, on the 2nd day, the agreement was "pretty much completely" drafted by Alinghi's representatives (Brad Butterworth and Hamish Ross) and accepted and signed by BMW Oracle's delegates (Tom Ehman and Richard Slater). Yet, in an "extremely unusual" way, the very same persons that wrote the draft, rejected it again "at the 11th hour", when they were about to board the airplane on their way back!!! According to Coutts, it was again orders from Geneva that led to the rejection of the final draft. He reiterated this point various times throughout the press conference. Although everybody in the room had agreed on a text drafted by Alinghi and the BMW Oracle representatives had signed it, a direct order from Geneva stopped Alinghi's negotiators from signing.
Coutts didn't want to go into details on what the draft agreements contained. He said there were 6-7 key points but preferred not to talk about the individual points. One of those points could be the rumored proposal by BMW Oracle to start the races at a later date. Although he said that both teams would further improve, if given more time prepare, but he was categorical they would be ready on February 8th, despite Alinghi's claim to the contrary. He thinks it's "arrogant" from their side to pronounce BMW Oracle wasn't ready and in fact not only will his team be ready, they are ready. All journalists will be able to follow BOR 90 sailing next week.
The remaining points that were left unresolved, concerning the Notice of Race and Sailing Instructions, will have to be dealt with by the International Jury.
A point raised by a number of local journalists was the statement by Valencia mayor, Rita Barberá, a couple of hours before the press conference, that her talks with Ernesto Bertarelli, who is visiting Valencia on a daily basis lately, broke down. Bertarelli wouldn't cede any rights to the city of Valencia, preferring to have a sort of "private" regatta. To the eyes of the press it seemed a futility to hold talks in Singapore, trying to reach an agreement with BMW Oracle, while the team owner was concurrently holding seemingly contradicting talks in Valencia.
So, the obvious question to Coutts by the local press was what he meant by "Geneva". Was it Bertarelli? For Coutts, Bertarelli is not the only person in Geneva, there is also Lucien Masmejan (the team's legal counselor) and a "whole range of people" there. In fact, as Coutts pointed out, when he was Alinghi's skipper in 2003, Bertarelli actually "made very few decisions" and as a result he wouldn't jump into any assumptions as to who has the final word. There is a number of issues raised by Coutts' remarks. Where does the buck stop at Alinghi? Is there an internal power struggle or even why do they send negotiators that don't have the power to sign the agreements reached on the negotiating table?
Russell Coutts, BMW Oracle CEO, talks to the press. Valencia, 13 January 2010. Photo copyright Pierre Orphanidis / Valencia Sailing
Legal action regarding Alinghi's sails
As for the latest legal action taken by his team, Coutts stated they "asked the court to rule on the Constructed-in-Country issue" and in particular on the sails BMW Oracle "is led to believe that will be used on Alinghi". His objective is to try to have a clear ruling before the race in order to avoid any post-match litigation.
My question was why they didn't first ask the International Jury to rule on that issue and his reply was straight forward. According to Coutts, the NY Supreme Court is the jurisdiction to rule on the Constructed-in-Country issue, something that has been made clear in its previous rulings. For all Deed-of-Gift related disputes it is the only jurisdiction. All sailing issues, such as where the two yachts should be moored, that do not directly depend on the Deed of Gift, should be resolved by the Jury.
The Court could eventually direct the Jury to offer an expert opinion or advice, as it has been done before, and this is something Coutts and BMW Oracle would be happy with. Their only preoccupation, according to Coutts, is to set aside the legal issues before the race. That is very probable, given the schedule set by the court. Alinghi will have to file their reply brief on January 20th and BMW Oracle their counter reply 6 days later, on the 26th. The Judge could then rule on the issue or order a hearing.
At that moment I mentioned the press release by Alinghi, issued an hour before the press conference, stating that "the sails for the Match have been constructed in a sail loft in Villeneuve, Switzerland." According to Coutts, 3DL sails are constructed in only two places in the world. One is Nevada and the other one is Sri Lanka and clearly neither of these places is in Switzerland. Of course the definition of the word "construct" Alinghi has might be different and it could simply mean where they put the sailnumbers on, stated Coutts.