Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Overcoming Swiss sportsmanship

America’s Cup Principal Race Officer Harold Bennett (NZL)
banishes Swiss official Nicolas Grange (SUI) from the
committee boat’s flybridge control center.
Apparently, for insubordination.

We really wanted to put Ernesto Bertarelli (SUI) and his yacht club Société Nautique de Genève (SNG) behind us.

We really wanted to move forward to America’s Cup 34 in a very positive way.

In fact, we even wanted to salute Ernesto for his commitment to his team, his passion for America’s Cup, and his sportsmanship.

On Sunday, we learned you can’t have everything.

In fact, when it comes to Ernesto –and his Swiss confreres – you had better be prepared to be disappointed.

First, Firmenich

If you were expecting Pierre-Yves Firmenich, Commodore of Société Nautique de Genève, to be courteous and salutary at the ceremony in Valencia when the America’s Cup trophy was passed to Golden Gate Yacht Club of San Francisco (GGYC), well, you were mistaken.

Firmenich couldn’t find the words to congratulate his peer, Commodore Marcus Young of GGYC, on his victory on the water. He couldn’t even shake his hand. The only thing he had to say to the world was that he was pleased to win the trophy in Auckland, New Zealand, in 2003.

Now Commodore Firmenich is a gentleman of the old order, held in high esteem in Switzerland, and in business circles around the world.

But there was no courtesy from Firmenich on Sunday. We are forced to conclude, therefore, that no courtesy was intended, therefore no honor was shown.

That absence of honor sits on Firmenich’s doorstep.

If that wasn’t enough, as the excitement of BMWOracle Racing (USA)’s victory settled, we learned about the bizarre behavior of SNG representatives on the official Race Committee boat, just prior to the start of Sunday’s race.

Second, Meyer

You have to remember that the Principal Race Officer (PRO) of AC33 was Harold Bennett (NZL), a long-time race official, highly respected around the world for the thankless task of adjudicating major racing events. One of his major roles in America’s Cup is to decide when race conditions are suitable for racing and to manage the start and finish of the event.

Accompanying him on the committee boat on Sunday were a number of SNG officials, including that alpine partisan, SNG Vice Commodore Fred Meyer (SUI).

For the first race, Bennett shrewdly decided he needed a GGYC representative on the boat – for fairness and balance – and asked BMWOracle Racing’s Tom Ehman (USA), a longtime race official and sailing judge, to come aboard as a representative of Golden Gate Yacht Club (GGYC).

Knowing exactly what a GGYC voice might mean to SNG’s strategies, whatever those might have been, Meyer went ballistic.

But Bennett held his ground. Ultimately, an Alinghi lawyer, Lucien Masmejan (SUI) was drafted to accompany Ehman, and the boat finally departed the dock in Valencia for Race One.

Then, on Sunday, as Bennett labored mightily to ensure that the 39-mile triangular course was effectively set up, providing balanced conditions across the 13x13x13 mile course, he waited patiently until he felt conditions were acceptable. Then, as he was about to authorize the flag sequence that would signal the start of the race, SNG staged a mutiny.

In contact with the Alinghi sailing team on the water, SNG officials on the committee boat decided that conditions didn’t favor their contender and wanted the race postponed. Bennett ignored them. He ordered a race “go”.

Despite the fact that any PRO like Bennett has sole authority to control events on the race course, SNG officials on the boat refused to obey Bennett’s orders. Refusing to be a puppet for Swiss partisans, Bennett himself took action.

Peremptorily, he ordered the SNG flunkies out of the control center on the flybridge, co-opted Ehman and a Spanish chase boat driver – a former race official – and ordered them to man the flags while he personally managed the critical, time-sensitive signal sequence.

Finally, Race 2 got under way.

Three days later, the sailing world is still abuzz about Swiss manipulation.

Third, Ernesto

This is a man we strive to like, believe it or not. He is a passionate sailor. He has invested millions of his own money to participate in America’s Cup. He loves fast boats, competition, and winning.

What’s not to like?

Well, a great deal, unfortunately.

This man should be a class act. Actually, he is a class apart.

As a major player on a global stage, you’d expect this man to have a lot to offer. Do you know what he really has?

Try this:

(1) No sense of sportsmanship, as most people accept it. We don’t want to get into Ernesto’s status as a gentleman. But we do know that a gentleman, in defeat, congratulates his victor, salutes their achievement, and commends their enterprise, enthusiasm, and accomplishment. There was not one word from Ernesto about this in the post-race press conference on Sunday. Oh, yes, he did say the wing was “efficient”. Otherwise, he looked for reasons to diss the victors.

(2) Nothing nice to say. Any time Ernesto Bertarelli has anything positive to say, it’s about Ernesto Bertarelli. Like the classic narcissist he seems to be, Ernesto’s thoughts and feelings are the center of the universe. There is no other center. It is psychologically impossible for him to say anything complimentary about any other person, thing or event, unless it’s an (in)elegant construction designed to compliment himself.

(3) A gift for whining. In his defeat, Ernesto didn’t blame an inferior yacht design that cost him the America’s Cup. He blamed the New York Courts. He blamed America. He blamed both because the courts give Americans an advantage that Europeans cannot overcome. He blamed the wing because it meant the winning boat USA had to be moored at the commercial port, not the darsena. He blamed Sunday’s wave height (about a meter). He blamed the wing again because it was the third version of USA’s sail design, not declared in the boat’s paperwork. He even stiffed lawyer and novo journalist Cory Friedman of Sailing Scuttlebutt for asking questions at the post-race press conference that he, Ernesto, didn’t like.

(4) No balls. When he won America’s Cup in 2007, Ernesto didn’t invite Emirates Team New Zealand to participate in the ceremonies. They were banished. Just like Russell Coutts (NZL), chief executive of BMWOracle, was banished from the AC33 owner’s press conference this year, even though Ernesto’s skipper Brad Butterworth (NZL) was invited and did participate. In 2007, like a king, Ernesto crowned himself. On Sunday, he didn’t even show on the platform. He left that to his fellow directors of SNG. True sportsmen, everyone knows, have what it takes. They show up, win or loss. Ernesto … well, you get the picture.

After all our whining, where are we left?

Depressed, actually.

This America’s Cup should never have been like this.

After AC32, the future of America’s Cup looked fabulous. The world was watching. Everybody learned to love big boat racing. Every sponsor we met was excited about the sport and looking forward to the next event.

Then, after the new AC challenger and draconian protocol were announced in July 2007 – a cataclysmic nosedive. America’s Cup plummeted. The world watched that, too.

Two and a half years later, this Deed of Gift event has been an America’s Cup of Redemption. Perhaps that’s what DOG races are all about.

Having brought the Cup back to zero, from the ugly depths to which it had sunk, Larry Ellison (USA), head of BMWOracle Racing and a director of Golden Gate Yacht Club, now has the opportunity – and the challenge – to restore the luster to this glorious competition.

He can also move it forward, decisively, into the future.

Anyone who won the Cup from Ernesto Bertarelli and the Alpine Nation would have that challenge.

We think Ellison might actually achieve it.


gshc said...

Well I will let you congratulate yourself like americans like to do so much. Just think to whom forced the race to be held in Valencia with the conditions we saw? Who refused the multichallenger AC format? And with the choice of the challenger I can only be scared for the next editions. I truly hope that the kiwis will be able to take it back where I think it belongs (although I am cheering for the swiss team).
A last note, I know that most americans don't know any other languages than English, but if you read swiss newspaper in French and the interviews of Ernesto you will see that he immediately acknowledged the technological superiority of Oracle. And seeing how everybody has been disappointed and fed up how this edition went, you cannot expect him to be over happy that the team who refused to affront the other challengers and who made everything to disturb the AC33 (why asking for the race in Valencia else? If you do any tiny research you will see that it is not a good spot for an AC in winter). I certainly do not say the Bertarelli is an angel, they for sure made mistakes and nasty things, but still their initial plan was to have a big AC33 open to everybody with new boats and more attractive to the general public. But well it is finally over and I am looking forward to see how Saint Ellison will develop the AC 34 as a model of fairplay. And I sincerely hope he will make me look ridiculous by indeed making it. But well when you know that he promised the city of Valencia to make the AC 34 in Valencia and now he already speak about making it in US (understandable, but then why to affirm that you will keep Valencia first???) I can only wonder...

Tim said...

To GSHC: You seem to conveniently forget that the multi-challenger AC was challenged because Bertarelli tried to manipulate and own the event with a bogus yacht club and a bogus challenger, and also control the yacht design in his favour. Bottom line: an unsportsmanlike whiner.

With respect to holding it in Valencia, it was the court, tired of Bertarelli's refusal to play by the Deed, that ruled it would be Valencia. If Bertarelli observed the Deed, he would not have suggested RAK.

He's a disgrace and anyone that supports him and can't be objective enough to see through the charade, is as bad (or brainwashed).

gshc said...

@Tim: so I am happy that the bad Ernesto left your "care bear world". Like I said, before Alinghi was not clever is not white in this story, but Ellison team is certainly as dirty.
For holding it in Valencia, you seem to forget that Alinghi proposed an alternative location in Australia (that Oracle refused...). Well there is no point to discuss more on this point as both side believe that the other is "brainwashed". I will rather wait to see the wonderful AC43 with rules being an exemple of fairplay and giving fair chances to the challengers. I am also looking forward to see the accessibility of the next edition to general public and its media coverage (in this domain the 32nd AC was an exemple I think). Then we will discuss again about "St Ellison saviour of the Cup".

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