Sir Keith Mills turns attention to America's Cup

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The Independent Online

London Olympics and World Cup bid playmaker Sir Keith Mills has turned his managerial eye on what he describes as a structure "not fit for purpose" as he tries to lead a £150m British assault on a game close to his heart, sailing and the quest to capture the America's Cup.

Sir Keith is deputy chairman of LOCOG (the London Organising Committee for the Olympic Games) having been instrumental in shaping London's successful bid for 2012 and he is deputy chairman of the supervisory board which is helping England attempt to bring arguably the second biggest event in world sport to his home country in 2018/22. He is also a director of Tottenham Hotspur.

But the America's Cup he had set his heart on has hit the legal buffers in a bitter fight between the Swiss holder, Ernesto Bertarelli, and the American who has won the right to challenge him, San Francsico-based Larry Ellison, who has even more billions that Bertarelli.

Even the highly refined negotiating skills which brought him a fortune with Air Miles and Nectar Cards may prove not to be enough given the fierce egos that populate an America's Cup harbour. "I have tried to mediate a couple of times, but unsuccessfully," he admits candidly.

Because of this, Sir Keith, a team bristling with Olympic medallists like Ben Ainslie (three golds) and Iain Percy (two golds), and other teams in Europe, and Australasia, have been sidelined. He practically mothballed his Team Origin six months ago, when world banking and commerce were also in turmoil.

Now it is back on the water again, heading for at least a podium place in the Louis Vuitton Trophy series in Nice this week – it moves on to Auckland and Sardinia next year – he has a new 52-footer being built in New Zealand to contest the Audi MedCup series, and is telling potential sponsors that his team will be racing for 200 days next year in world class events. The overall plan would see six years at £25m a year with at least one America's Cup in 2013, maybe a second in 2015.

He knows that he has to work with whoever wins the best of three America's Cup races, scheduled to start on 8 February next year, most likely, but not yet certainly, in Valencia, Spain, between two of the most spectacular racing yachts ever seen, a catamaran from Bertarelli's Alinghi team, a trimaran with a towering hard wing sail in the BMW Oracle colours.

Whatever the underlying impatience and exasperation, Mills is calm and diplomacy personified. But he is also businesslike. "At Spurs, we have just reported a £30m profit and it is run like a business. Some Olympic sports are run that way, most Olympic sports are run by amateurs. I think the America's Cup can be run professionally, too, but you need at its heart a governance structure and a set of rules that everyone can rely on.

"I guess where the America's Cup has been let down in the last couple of years is that the rules are clearly not fit for purpose." It is very difficult, he adds, to run a long-term sports team when the goal posts can be moved so quickly and easily.

Making changes to the way the event is run, part under the terms of an 1870 trust deed lodged in New York, part under a set of practices that have developed in the last 40 years, requires not just unanimity between all the potential challengers to bring the 1870 deed into the 21st. century.

The big obstacle is the total breakdown of trust, where even good ideas are viewed suspiciously in case they may be ways of gaining individual team advantage.

Sir Keith wants to a third party group of management advisers brought in to draw up a blueprint which could combine the intentions of the New York Yacht Club members which turned a trophy won in 1851 around the Isle of Wight into one of yachting's four pinnacle events, give it a stable day to day management, and still protect the rights of the defender which he hopes to become. There is probably a way; what is lacking is the wider will.

There is also an attempt to be green. Team Origin has called in and signed up for the Carbon Trust to make sure that the campaign puts as many green feet forward as possible. Most recently a study recommended ditching road transport for its yacht from Valencia to Nice. Instead it was towed up the Mediterranean. It also saved £80,000.

And he is very proud that the new Tottenham stadium "will be the most environmentally friendly in Europe, not least by being self-sufficient in water and producing enough power from its own plant also to supply the local school.