Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Suddenly, it's noisy again in Switzerland

Over the past few days, there's been a lot of noise from the alpine nation.

Setting the stage, Justice Herman Cahn in New York hummed, or gently limned his decision into the ethos. Thank you, Justice Cahn.

And for a day or two, all was silent. Even Cory Freidman, Esq. (USA), that exceptional legal commentator, was silent.

But it was not to last.

Soon, the faxes and emails started flying.

And notably among the faxers and the statement-makers, Vice Commodore Fred Meyer (SUI) of Société Nautique de Genève (SNG), an otherwise highly partisan member of the Alinghi clan, wrote a surprisingly reasoned and sensible letter to the Commodore of the Golden Gate Yacht Club (GGYC), in the manner of good and reasonable yacht club officials, inviting GGYC to participate in discussions to resolve the date of the Deed of Gift challenge between Alinghi and BMW Oracle. Very nice.

But it was not to last.

In his next breath, the Vice Commodore fired off an extraordinarily intemperate, vituperative letter to Russell Coutts (NZL), Oracle CEO and skipper, declaiming Oracle's inability to compete on the water and protesting their penchant for action in the courts.

The Vice Commodore may seem like a major player in America's Cup, and maybe he is, but in his printed communications he sounds like just another Alinghi noisemaker. A lot like the Prince of Alinghi himself, but without the clout. A lot like the flacks at America's Cup Management -- but with more clout? It's hard to tell.

The sad fact is, he demonstrates an extraordinarily cheezy, mean-spirited ability to make the worst kinds of comments, for all the wrong reasons, at a time when he should be conciliatory and constructive.

After all, SNG was creamed in the Court of the Deed of Gift.

And let me point out, just for the record, that the people Commodore Meyer declaims, directly and indirectly, including Larry Ellison (USA), chief of Oracle, Russell Coutts, CEO, and the good people of GGYC have never, ever, ever uttered such childish, defensive thoughts as his.

So who are the sportsmen here?

Vice Commodore Meyer evidently has forgotten or conveniently overlooked the fact that the New York Court that protects the Deed of Gift said, in effect, to the Principality of Alinghi, "You are out of line. You are wrong. We listened to you. We waited upon you. But you are wrong. You are totally wrong. Drop it. Forget it. Move on."

Meyer inevitably must face that fact.

He must also face the fact that his posture, tone of voice and language are unseemly, unwelcome, undignified and unsportsmanlike.

We pray he behaves like the gentleman he is in his meeting with Russell Coutts and Tom Ehman (USA), head of external affairs for Oracle, tomorrow.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Huge, challenging issues for Grant Dalton, Team New Zealand

Grant Dalton (NZL) is a major player. He's a sailor (above, seen here, before sailing, during the Louis Vuitton semi-finals in Valencia in 2007). He has won and weathered round-the-world races. He resuscitated Team New Zealand from the ruptures, punctures and poor team management of his predecessors, including Kiwis who designed, built and launched the NZL boats that failed in 2003.

He has fronted up (a Kiwi term, meaning approached directly and spoke with honesty, openness and candor) to sponsors who had no previous connection with America's Cup sailing. And he successfully converted them to AC racing.

In his own, blunt, determined Kiwi way, he built a system, a philosophy, and a marvellous on board management style that puts function, energy, application, team work, performance and passion above emotion. Some say he even puts these values above enthusiasm.

But he has been successful in America's Cup, and he has built a leviathan.

Just what every Kiwi on the planet (sailor, fan, critic, journalist, sponsor, booster, blogger) could ever want from an America's Cup team. In some ways, Grant has reasserted New Zealand into the America's Cup.

But while Golden Gate Yacht Club (GGYC) and Ernesto Bertarelli (SUI) and his entities, Team Alinghi and Société Nautique de Genève (SNG), are doing what they have to do, and while BMW Oracle Racing (BOR), presumably the official challenger for America's Cup 33, are doing what they have to do, other America's Cup teams are in major disarray.

Grant Dalton himself has had to let 30% of New Zealand team members seek alternative opportunities.

On the legal front, Grant is now dealing with efforts in Justice Cahn's New York Supreme Court (about breach of contract by Alinghi) and about anti-trust issues in America's Cup 33 in New York District Court (before a jury).

Grant and the New Zealand team attorney, Jim Farmer (NZL), are managing the two new lawsuits.

Grant will be knowledgeable about all issues, but above all, he will be determined to succeed.

He has to seek compensation for his perception of breach of contract by Bertarelli which his lawyers (lead by a Kiwi lawyer) entered into with Alinghi lawyers (lead by a Kiwi lawyer).

Then, he has to manage the humongous, new legal event from the amazing David Boise (of Boise, Schiller and Flexner of New York) in which Mr. Hammer (David Boise) has decidedly seen a Nail (Alinghi's possessive interest in possessing every aspect of the America's Cup), which he believes needs hammering.

Apparently, this new legal effort is funded by passionate, loyal Kiwis who are focused on Team New Zealand's freedom to compete, with honor and goodwill, in the greatest sailing event on the planet, and who believe that New Zealand should take a second seat to no-one as complicated decisions are posited, assessed, adjudicated and decided.

Grant Dalton is a great man in a difficult position.

According to many observers, his team is right in its assertions. Yet he must do very unpopular things (like pursuing lawsuits) to ensure that New Zealand's best interests are protected.

As he himself admits, he is a sailor. Not a lawyer.

And we are humongously glad of that. In fact, our heart goes out to him and his team as he protects them, protects New Zealand's involvement in America's Cup, and pursues what he and his colleagues believe is the right course for Team New Zealand.

There is nothing perfect, or ideal, here.

We give our support to Grant.