Blue-Blazer Grave Dancing

Now, let me start by saying I’m not really that interested in the America’s Cup – especially in its current “condition”. I enjoy actual sailing – not all the elitist political crap surrounding a litigious morass that just happens to produce a bit of sailing every few years.

But, I just watched Tom Ehman’s show where he was talking with Richard Gladwell about the exit of World Sailing’s CEO, Andy Hunt. Actually I think Skype-based grave dancing would probably be a more accurate description of what was going on.

Watching Old Blue-Blazer Dudes get all smug in their parlors has never been that interesting. But here we are…

For a bit of context, Gladwell wrote an article on this whole thing – essentially throwing serious shade at Hunt as is clear by the title…

“America’s Cup: World Sailing CEO’s Sneaky Move Backfires”
(I’m not going to link to it here because I think its a huge load of embittered BS.)

So what was that “sneaky move”?

The AC, just like the The Ocean Race, SailGP, and most all other major sailing events work out an agreement with (and payment to) World Sailing to be a “sanctioned” event. All these events have already worked out deals. Yet under the guiding hand of Emirates Team New Zealand, the AC36 “OA” apparently didn’t like the asking price and refused to pay up. So no agreement.

Okay – that’s certainly their right.

But here’s the problem…if an event is unsanctioned, there are real consequences to the participating sailors – and, by proxy, their governments.

To wit…from Gladwell’s own article…

Under its own rules and regulations World Sailing can remove ‘Competitor Eligibility’ for competing in a Prohibited Event – which can be one for which ‘the Organizing Authority has not paid the World Sailing event fees’.

Removal of Eligibility for sailing in an unsanctioned America’s Cup World Series event in Cagliari, in April, could have meant that 2020 Olympic representatives from who are also part of America’s Cup teams could have been banned from competing in the 2020 Olympic Sailing Regatta at Enoshima.

Included in that group would have been the 2016 Olympic Gold medalists, Peter Burling and Blair Tuke (NZL) from Emirates Team New Zealand and Giles Scott (GBR), INEOS Team UK.

So, clearly, if the AC goes ahead unsanctioned, all the sailors from various countries like Burling, Tuke, Scott, etc. who are now contractually obligated to participate in an event they fully expected to be sanctioned (as it always has been) – can/will be disqualified from sailing in the Olympics if they proceed. And that’s obviously a very big deal, not only for them but for the countries/governments they represent.

So we’re now several months out from the AC firing up and this “contract dispute” is now well and truly jeopardizing all these various stakeholders. It’s no longer just about ETNZ and/or the OA.

So, if you are the CEO of World Sailing – what do you do? Clearly, you put in a call to those affected stakeholders and you let them know they are months away from being in this situation…precisely because ETNZ is pouting in the corner and clinging to an ever-weakening hand as its event dwindles to a financially disastrous lack of participation.

These government heads clearly deserve a heads-up that maybe they should be looking for other athletes if these sailors are going to be ineligible. This is exactly what a responsible executive would do.

In fact, it certainly seems to me that, in his position, this is Hunt’s fiduciary duty.

But, alas, Gladwell writes a ridiculous article calling Hunt “sneaky” for doing this. He starts said article with this from a whinging “ETNZ spokesman”…

An Emirates Team New Zealand spokesman has confirmed in a written statement that: “Despite the World Sailing CEO Andy Hunt attempting to circumvent the process by contacting the NZ Government, negotiations direct with the Board of World Sailing for the America’s Cup to be a sanctioned event have been satisfactorily concluded on behalf of the Challenger of Record / Defender.

Gladwell then goes on to voice the strange complaint that World Sailing has not been promoting the AC in its announcements…

In its media release announcing The Ocean Race agreement, World Sailing referred to the six events on which it did have agreements which included “SailGP, World Match Racing Tour, PWA World Tour, Star Sailors League and the Global Kitesports Association’s freestyle world tours”.

The Ocean Race does not get under way until September 2021, six months after the America’s Cup Match, and the first event requiring an agreement is the America’s Cup World Series regatta to be sailed in Cagliari, Sardinia in six months, next April.

World Sailing published a similar list on October 4, 2018, announcing the Special Event recognition for Sail GP. In both lists, the America’s Cup Regatta was a glaring omission, given the event timings.

I mean, let’s be serious. Why would World Sailing be announcing the AC if the AC is not a World Sailing sanctioned event? That’s not the way the world works fellas – at least beyond the shores of New Zealand. You have to pay to play. One would think that this would be understood in the heady world of the America’s Cup.

Then Ehman, through a reptilian smile, calls this move by World Sailing “extortion” of ETNZ – which is a pretty strong accusation – and says that it is just Hunt trying to “balance the books on the back of the AC”.

So there’s obviously a lot of mean girl angst among these dapper dinosaurs – but good lord. To repeatedly claim “good riddance” and salivate over the exit of a man who did the right thing in this particular instance is all you need to know about why the AC is such a dysfunctional event.

Here’s the real story:

If ETNZ was touting a HUGE AC as shown in the initial financial projections – “HUGER” than past AC events (up to 11 participants and multiple events) – why the hell wouldn’t they expect sanctioning costs (which include overseeing, umpiring, etc. across all the various AC-related events) to be higher than those past AC events?

Yet ETNZ thinks the price for sanctioning is “too high” in relation to those past AC events and therefore refuses to budge – while all those other sailing events work things out just fine with World Sailing.

So it is World Sailing “extorting” ETNZ when it is likely pricing to ETNZ’s claims of the bigger scope of the event? Really? Is it World Sailing’s or Hunt’s fault that ETNZ is not delivering what it initially said it would – now apparently down to a financially disastrous 4 participants?

More importantly in this regard, hasn’t the NZ government already shelled out a quarter-billion dollars for this event based on those early financial projections that were clearly WAY off? Don’t they deserve a heads-up as things slide even further sideways?

Sorry, but I’d say it’s the NZ government getting shellacked here…and certainly not by World Sailing or Andy Hunt.

ETNZ has screwed the pooch at virtually every turn on this AC. And that is clear in Gladwell’s own article…

Details of the arrangement, are yet to be confirmed, but it is believed that the amount of the seven-figure Sanctioning Fee is similar to that paid for previous America’s Cups.

ETNZ projected a HUGE event that that would overshadow previous events (and World Sailing believe them and likely priced accordingly). In reality, however, AC36 is now nothing near what was touted, much less what previous America’s Cup events have been in terms of events and participation.

So, even after all this hot air, ETNZ obviously STILL OVERPAID even by its own measures.

No, Hunt didn’t “circumvent the process”. He did his job. And in doing so, ETNZ got caught out and embarrassed. And rightly so.

AC36 is turning into a disaster. And if it keeps heading this direction, with guys like Gladwell and Ehman picking at the bones, upcoming generations who don’t know what blazers even are won’t give a damn about the America’s Cup.

Maybe the America’s Cup should just shut up and get back to sailing.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *