A busy weekend for Olympic champion and America’s Cup challenger Sir Ben Ainslie includes a flight to Los Angeles for a summit meeting at which all the potential challengers for the next cup, scheduled for 2017, will discuss problems with the current developments.
This week the defender, which has the right to choose, announced that the venues under consideration had been whittled down to two, dropping Chicago and concentrating on San Diego or Bermuda. The 2013 venue of San Francisco, where there had always been an uneasy relationship, had already been dropped, as had Newport, Rhode Island.
The event authority, effectively led by the Oracle team boss Sir Russell Coutts, holder of the cup, issued early last month the complex rules surrounding the structure of what will be AC35, the 35 defence since the yacht America won the 100 pound trophy in a race around the Isle of Wight in 1851.
Since Oracle came from 1-8 down to retain the cup 9-8 last September, with Ainslie making a significant contribution as a member of a crew skippered by the Australian Jimmy Spithill, this is the first time that all the challengers have met to discuss how the rules are being drawn up. Those rules were drafted by Oracle and the so-called Challenger of Record, the Hamilton Island Yacht Club and its Team Australia.
They include a delicate area for Ainslie as they replace what has been an international jury with a three-strong Arbitration Panel made up by the Court of Arbitration for Sport to settle disputes. It is not known what role would be played by the International Sailing Federation, the world governing body of which Ainslie’s brother-in-law, Jerome Pels, is Secretary General. The Italian president, Carlo Croce, is understood to be determined to see its control continue.
The challengers will also want to see more clarity about the whole structure of AC35 as they try to raise sponsorship support. Ainslie has said that his target budget is £80m. and he thinks he has about 40% of that. This includes £7.5m. of government money pledged by David Cameron – a rare move to back a team rather than an event – plus £1.4m. from the city of Portsmouth, where Ben Ainslie Racing (BAR) intends to build a new sailing and administrative headquarters.
But none of the teams met a deadline earlier this week to lodge formal challenges with a request to host qualifier regattas in 2015 and 2016. BAR has told Coutts that it wants to stage regattas in Portsmouth in both 2015 and 2016, so that deadline may be artificial. More important is the deadline for formal entries for AC35, at 8 August less than a month away, which need to be accompanied by a $1m. fee, followed by a performance bond of another $1m.and a second $1m. tranche before the end of the year.
They need to know sooner rather than later when and where they will race – an important factor when unleashing expensive design teams – and whether the qualifiers to find the final four will be in a completely different part of the planet. That is promised not until the end of the year, though Oracle skipper Jimmy Spithill told New Zealand television recently that he hoped that would be by October.
Depending on how it is measured, the San Francisco event did not live up to the commercial predictions made and Coutts is very keen to make more of a financial success this time. “I’m confident that we’re on target to finish with a venue that allows us to achieve our goal of hosting an exciting and successful America’s Cup built on a strong commercial foundation,” he said this week.
The British are gung ho to challenge, the Prada-backed Luna Rossa team wants to check a few things, but it would be a major surprise if it did not challenge, has budget allocated, and has received further backing from the Lenovo computer company.
The Swedish Artemis team, run by Ainslie’s big friend and himself a double Olympic gold medallist Iain Percy, has the backing of oil billionaire Torbjorn Tornqvist and the 2013 challenger Emirates Team New Zealand has government backing, continued support from the Middle East airline, and has said it is ready to challenge.
There is more uncertainty about the financial status of a French challenge led by Franck Cammas and Michel Desjoyeaux and little but speculation about teams from China and Russia, both of which could easily be funded.