What is shaping up to be the biggest scandal in sailing history, James Spithill is looking a worried man as a new report from the America’s Cup measurers has revealed new evidence of illegal modifications to the Oracle Team USA AC45s used in the America’s Cup World Series.
The protests center around illegally modified kingposts. Now on the face of it these are minor changes which will have little affect on performance. But this is cheating and being taken very seriously as the international jury will be taking this new evidence into consideration during the two protest hearings (one under Rule 69 and the other under America’s Cup Protocol 60) taking place in the next few days.
The Oracle management team and skippers (Spithill, Coutts and Ainslie) are trying to distance themselves from the scandal, so the fall guys could be the crew or shore teams. But is this really fair. In business, the CEO shoulders the blame for blatant wrong doing within their organization. It is they who set the culture, direction and ethics for their organization. Why should Oracle Team USA be any different? It is bigger than most businesses in the Bay Area.
What could penalties be? It is not yet known, but it could be a fine, race wins awarded to Emirates Team New Zealand in the America’s Cup final or even disqualification of some of the sailors from the competition.
Every sport has rules and every athlete, trainer and coach pushes them. Disgraced cyclists. Olympic track and field. But these events have far tighter policing than the America’s Cup World Series. You could say this may have encouraged cheating as the modifications to the AC45s, when pointed out, were easily identified.
But what is more disturbing is the arrogance of Oracle Team USA. The changes / modifications are not big. The increased performance is probably negligible and the changes were easily spotted. But it seems like the team believed that they were above the law and could do it and get away with it. And they did, until a few weeks ago.
From the outside, it seems that Ben Ainslie is not being dragged into this. He came to the ACWS late as he was in the UK winning his record 5th Olympic medal and “chartered” the boat branded JP Morgan Asset Management from Oracle. But James Spithill is at the very center of it all. It seems inconceivable that he can walk away from this unscathed.
Certainly someone will need to be publicly punished. But will it be James and will he be banned by ISAF so he is forced to watch the racing from the naughty step? That would send a very strong message to the sport and every aspiring America’s Cup sailor. Ben Ainslie would like nothing more that to step into James place. He has the track record, and time on the water in an AC45 and AC72.
But would the American’s really let a Brit try and win the America’s Cup back for them? Probably. It seems that there is no limit to what they are prepared to do to win.