Defenders' deal dupes the public

SAILING
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The Independent Online
The America's Cup surpassed its tradition for the ridiculous yesterday when the three defence candidates agreed they wanted to run things their way, presented the San Diego Yacht Club's defence committee (in theory the organisers of the event) with a fait accompli and, hey presto, bent the rules of the competition sideways. Now there are three, not two, boats in the final.

When the 15 women and one man on Bill Koch's Mighty Mary crossed the finish of what should have been a sudden-death sail-off at the end of the semi-final round-robin series against Dennis Conner nearly six minutes ahead, they were ecstatic. A legend had been overcome, a dream realised. They would be sailing in a straight fight against Kevin Mahaney for the right to defend the America's Cup.

Then the boss clambered aboard and told them that before the race he had negotiated an agreement by which they had in fact won just a bonus point to take into yet another round-robin series against both Mahaney's Pact '95, and Conner's Stars & Stripes.

In an effort to justify this to an astonished public, who had been told the race between Conner and Mighty Mary was one of the big confrontations of sailing history, the three syndicates presented a united front.

John Marshall, of Pact '95, said he thought it was a good idea because he goes into the finals in the lead, with the advantage of two bonus points, one more than anyone else. Koch was happy with the deal because he wanted to maximise his chances of getting into the final. Conner said that after careful analysis, he had come to the conclusion you cannot fight if you are dead.

Then there are the sponsors. The event has not yet been shown on American television and neither Koch's nor Conner's sponsors have received any TV time for their millions. "It was an insurance policy," Conner said. "I have an obligation to my sponsors. Pardon me if I sound commercial, but a lot of our sponsors would have been disappointed if we were eliminated now and I couldn't have blamed them." Citizen watches, who sponsor the actual defender series and who were never consulted, are less happy, however.

Wytie Cable, the chairman of the defence committee, said he had known nothing of the agreement until four hours before the crucial race, but was happy to approve anything the defence syndicates told him they were going to do anyway.

That the defenders do whatever they can to win the main event, the America's Cup, is understandable. But to be so cavalier about duping the public, at whom both the sport and the sponsors are ultimately aiming, is less wise. The facts of America's Cup life, though, are that they are able to do what they like in running the defender selection.

All three, plus Team New Zealand and oneAustralia, the two challenger finalists in the Louis Vuitton Cup, will see the yachts, so far closely guarded, unveiled on Sunday. The racing resumes on Monday.

CITIZEN CUP Semi-finals Sail-off: America3 bt Stars & Stripes, 5min 59sec. Standings: 1 Pact '95, 9pts; 2 America3, 4; 3 Stars & Stripes, 3.

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