Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Russell Coutts signs as CEO and skipper of BMW Oracle Racing

Earlier this afternoon in Valencia, Larry Ellison, owner of BMW Oracle, announced that Russell Coutts, the famous kiwi sailor, had joined the team in the role of CEO and skipper. Under different circumstances, this announcement and the appearance of Coutts and Ellison side by side inside the BMW Oracle base would have caused a great stir and grabbed the attention of the media. After all, Coutts was the mastermind behind Alinghi's win of the America's Cup in 2003 and to see him in Valencia wearing the number 12 shirt of the American challenger would have caused an earthquake, even if the move was rumored around Port America's Cup for a couple of months now.

Russell Coutts (left) and Larry Ellison hold the kiwi sailor's brand new BMW Oracle shirt. According to Ellison, 12 is Coutts' lucky number. Valencia, 24 July 2007. Photo copyright Pierre Orphanidis / Valencia Sailing

But today the circumstances were different and it seemed to us that the arrival of Russell Coutts in the America's Cup challenge [Note: still not officially accepted] was sidelined. Coutts was obviously excited to join Ellison's team in his new role but there was no mistake what the main issue was in today's press conference. The American software mogul and owner of the America's Cup team spent most of 30 minutes of the conference explaining the reasons behind his decision to file a lawsuit against the Société Nautique de Genève, regarding the Protocol of the 33rd America's Cup and the Club Nautico Español de Vela (CNEV), the yacht club representing the Challenger of Record.

We suggest you listened to Ellison's arguments by playing the MP3 file of the entire press conference by clicking on the green play button. You can pause or stop the audio file with the control buttons, just like with any other music player. Note, due to its large size the file might be slow to start. By clicking inside the horizontal bar you move to any point of the file:

Ellison's main points were the invalidity of the CNEV and the utter unfairness of the Protocol, arguments that have been thoroughly discussed in the documents presented the New York supreme court. According to him, the CNEV is invalid because it was founded a few days before the signature of the protocol and had never held a regatta before.

Russell Coutts (left) and Larry Ellison shake hands after the kiwi sailor was officially presented as the team's new CEO and skipper. Valencia, 24 July 2007. Photo copyright Pierre Orphanidis / Valencia Sailing

Concerning the unfairness of the protocol, Ellison focused on the powers it gives ACM and by extension Alinghi. According to him, Alinghi has the power to dismiss any challenger at any time at its sole discretion, can change the design rules or even unilaterally hire and fire all umpires, judges and jury members. He goes into length giving examples of what he thinks are the powers of Alinghi under the new protocol , unlike any other sport, according to him. For those reasons, he believes the Golden Gate Yacht Club had no option but to file a lawsuit.

He went on to state that if they win the case in court, the America's Cup match will take place in July 2008 in Valencia. If they are victorious in that match, then the 34th Cup will also take place, together with the Challenger Selection Series, in 2009, again in Valencia.

Larry Ellison is undoubtedly an extremely shrewd businessman, otherwise his software group wouldn't be the second-biggest in the world. His arguments can have legal grounds and he might even win his case in New York. Nevertheless, the America's Cup was never intended to be a fair competition and it has always been the Defender's prerogative to set the rules of the game. His answer to the question whether he would still challenge if he loses the trial in New York was a loud and clear "yes". He wants to win the America's Cup and will try to use all the weapons he has, on and off the water.

Going back to the arrival of Coutts in the team, it will be interesting to see what sailors will be recruited in the next couple of months. According to Coutts, he came alone to BMW Oracle but he has the green light from Ellison to hire any sailor he might think would strengthen the team.

After all these years in Valencia, this is the first time I see a US flag on the rooftop of BMW Oracle's base. Coincidence or sign of the things to come? Valencia, 24 July 2007. Photo copyright Pierre Orphanidis / Valencia Sailing

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