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Oracle Team USA hit with harsh penalties in America’s Cup

Team docked two points, key sailor and two shore crewmen expelled as international jury hands down verdict over illegal modifications four days before historic regatta to begin

In what has been described as the harshest penalties in the 162-year history of America’s Cup, Oracle Team USA has been docked two points before the 2013 regatta even begins, a key sailor and two shore crewmen have been expelled, and the team was fined $250,000 after a four-week cheating investigation by an international jury.

The jury found that Larry Ellison’s Oracle team made illegal modifications to prototype boats used in America’s Cup World Series warm-up regattas last year and earlier this year. Specifically it added weights to the forward king posts and extended the post, thereby taking the boats out of the strict one-design rule, this according to Yachts and Yachting and the San Jose Mercury News.

The two-point penalty means that Oracle Team USA must win 11 races to retain the oldest trophy in international sports while Team New Zealand must only win nine races in the best-of-17 series. The historic regatta begins with Races 1 and 2 on Saturday in San Francisco Bay.

Oracle Team USA chief executive Russell Coutts was not happy and felt the decision was “grossly unfair.”

“It sets a bizarre precedent as to the future,” Coutts told the Mercury News. “If a few individuals on a team commit a rules breach, the whole team gets penalized for it. Without the knowledge of management and skippers, the whole team gets penalized…

“We’ve got penalized two points in the match for something that a few of our sailors did on an AC45 more than a year ago without the knowledge or approval of management or the skippers. I think it’s an outrageous decision.”

Oracle Team USA Photo by Guilain Grenier.

Oracle Team USA Photo by Guilain Grenier via Oracle Team USA Facebook page

More from the San Jose Mercury News:

Dirk de Ridder, who trims the wing sail on the high-performance, 72-foot catamaran, is barred from sailing in the regatta, and two shore crew members also have been expelled. Grinder Matt Mitchell has been barred from the first four races. Kyle Langford, a wing trimmer on the B crew, was given a warning, and another sailor, identified only as Sailor X, had his case dismissed.

 

Top members of the syndicate, including CEO Russell Coutts, skipper Jimmy Spithill, and tactician John Kostecki, were not implicated in the scandal, which involved 45-foot catamarans that were prototypes for the 72-footers being sailed in the America’s Cup.

Coutts said de Ridder “has been a fantastic team member and a fantastic sailor for many, many years. I think all the decisions are incredibly harsh. I don’t think the evidence supported the jury’s decision.”

The jury, on the other hand, used strong language in handing out the penalties and was “fuming at the team for having brought the sport into disrepute,” Yachts and Yachting reported.

“The seriousness of the breaches cannot be understated,” the jury stated. “The Chairman of the Measurement Committee when asked how did he feel when he found what had occurred stated in the hearing ‘I felt old, used, and stupid … our trust in the team had been betrayed, trust had been abused. If we can’t deal in an atmosphere of a certain amount of trust, we simply cannot do our job.’ This comment exemplifies the concerns expressed by a number of experienced America’s Cup sailors, OTUSA management, and indeed the Jury.”

The harsh penalties mean Oracle Team USA not only needs to win two more races than Team New Zealand to win the cup—an incredible disadvantage to start—but must quickly work on gelling as a team with replacement crew members.

“We have to make adjustments this week,” Coutts said, “and we have four days to get it done.”