Sir Jim Ratcliffe, boss of America’s Cup challenger Ineos Team UK, has provided a little more of the thinking behind Grant Dalton and Team New Zealand’s option to take the Cup for an “away”
challenge to the Isle of Wight, maybe next year.
Ratcliffe has told the UK Daily Telegraph that next year’s potential one-on-one Cup regatta in the UK would be “a bridge” to a full regatta that the Telegraph noted would “almost certainly” be held in Auckland in 2024.
Ratcliffe’s hint suggests the two syndicates have done a deal-in-theory that possibly stipulates the following: If TNZ win the Cup in the UK, the next regatta will be in Auckland in 2024 with Ineos again the Challenger of Record (COR). If Ineos win the Cup next year, the 38th America’s Cup (the one in the UK would be AC37), they will be the defender and Team NZ will be the COR.
Either way, the plan seems that the 2024 venue will be Auckland.
Even though Ratcliffe has told the Telegraph he wouldn’t be funding the challenge, he (or someone) will be stumping up a venue and hosting fee. It isn’t hard to see that fee covering not only the venue costs but a discretionary amount covering all sorts of things Team NZ want or need.
So that is a source of funds that comes not from the New Zealand taxpayer and entirely without the common complaint that the America’s Cup is the plaything of rich people who should not be suckling at the public teat. It also, you imagine, helps set Team NZ up for AC38 in Auckland in 2024 – so Dalton can achieve his abiding preference: another America’s Cup in Auckland.
There’s just one tiny, teeny-weeny thing: what does “almost certainly” mean?
Without going into excruciating legal detail, the Deed of Gift (which sets the ground rules for the America’s Cup) states that no other challenge can be entertained until the first one has been resolved. In other words, the 37th America’s Cup has to happen and be decided before AC38 is proposed.
The problem that could arise is one of exclusion. Billionaires like Patrizio Bertelli (Prada and Luna Rossa) and Ernesto Bertarelli (Alinghi) have signalled their intention to compete and now the powerful, deep-pockets people behind the New York Yacht Club and American Magic have been making similar noises.
Bertarelli may have been forestalled by the new provision that the next America’s Cup will feature sailing crew who all hail from the syndicate’s country of origin – and there are not many Swiss America’s Cup sailors around.
But you anger billionaires and power brokers at your peril – as Bertarelli found out when Alinghi held the Cup but proposed such a self-serving version of the next regatta that Oracle billionaire Larry Ellison got the pricker and commenced court action. It dragged on for almost two years, ending with a New York Supreme Court edict that Alinghi and Oracle would race off in a big-boat challenge in 2010, which Oracle won. They then defended the Cup against Team NZ in San Francisco in 2013, before the Kiwis won it in Bermuda.
If someone decides to challenge the one-on-one regatta in the UK (and Bertelli and Bertarelli are no friends of TNZ at present), it could be tied up in legal action for yonks.
But there’s another potential hiccup – what happens if Ineos win the Cup next year and Ratcliffe says something like: “Well, thanks very much, old boy, I know we said the next one would be in Auckland but I think we’ll have it in the UK now?”
It doesn’t take much imagination to see Ineos and Team NZ thrashing out a legal contract which says that if Team NZ win, they will defend in Auckland and Ineos are COR. If Ineos win, they will defend in Auckland and Team NZ will be COR. The contract could be sealed by a multi-million dollar bond payable to the other party if one departs from the agreement.
But what happens if Ineos renege on holding AC38 in Auckland? There could be legal arguments mounted that, because the original agreement was non-Deed-of-Gift-compliant, the contract between Ineos and Team NZ was founded on inappropriate grounds.
That could be another long and highly costly court procedure – and who pays Team NZ’s bills? This is all supposition, and Team NZ are canny operators who may well have all their ducks in a row and the other challengers on board.
That, however, seems doubtful. Diplomatic relations are not at a high with Luna Rossa; challengers in Auckland in 2024 will be a generation behind when they come to build their AC75 boats for AC38 – with Ineos and Team NZ holding an advantage while the rest play catch-up.
So it’s a risk, or a potential risk, going to the UK. But, after all the corrosive arguments against taxpayer monies funding Team NZ (even though Government money has gone to rugby and cricket World Cups), it may be the only way the team can continue as defender.