|(Yachting) Cheating Americans penalized, three crew barred
Defending champ Team Oracle USA was slapped with a two-point penalty for illegally modifying catamarans in a cheating saga that has rocked the 34th America's Cup, the organizers announced.
The decision by the international jury to dock the Americans two points, ban three crew members and levy a US$250,000 fine is the harshest in the 162-year history of sailing's marquee event, AFP reports.
The Americans will now have to race without one sailor and two shore crew members in the 34th American's Cup which gets underway on Saturday.
It also means Team USA must win 11 races to defend their title while their opponent Emirates Team New Zealand will need just nine wins in the best-of-17 format event.
“The breaches of the Class Rule were implemented with the intention of increasing performance of three AC45 boats,'' the jury wrote in their 14-page decision. “The modifications were used in the field of play, they were multiple and were put into place over a period of time in several ACWS Regattas.
“The conduct relates to on-the-water breaches whilst racing in multiple regattas and according an on-the-water penalty is appropriate.''
The suspensions mean Team USA has lost its primary wing trimmer and will no longer have two of their shore crew members.
The international jury said violations took place in early 2012 and involved illegal changes to their AC45 boats and not the larger AC72 yachts used in the America's Cup. The AC45 boats were used in the America's Cup World Series and were smaller prototypes of the elite 72-foot catamarans featured in the America's Cup races.
The jury said the modifications included adding ballast, using 80 millimeter – instead of the manufacturer's 15mm spigots – on the main king posts and extending the length of the king posts.
“The jury holds the view that each of the modifications were made in the belief that they would enhance performance; whether they would actually enhance performance is not directly relevant,'' the jury said. “The performance enhancement would likely be small, but making many small enhancements is the nature of winning races at the top level of the sport.''
The jury also said it suspects there were more team members involved than the US is letting on although it cleared the team's upper management including chief executive Russell Coutts and skipper Jimmy Spithill of any wrongdoing.
“It also seems inconceivable that boat riggers initiated these changes without the knowledge of managers, or the direction of sailors, if not skippers,'' the jury wrote.
“Any sailing team would, given the choice, move weight from the designated corrector weight area to the king posts where it is lower and therefore adds righting moment more effectively.
“This may seem a trivial gain, but all successful sailing teams pay attention to every detail concerning performance or reliability, especially if they are well resourced.''
Team USA's Coutts said while they think the punishment is too harsh they would not appeal the penalties.
“The rules infractions involved only a few of our 130 team members, and were done without the knowledge of either our team's management or the skippers who were driving the boats,'' said Coutts.
“While we disagree with the unprecedented penalties imposed by the Jury, we have no choice but to make the necessary changes to personnel on our race boat and do our best to use the next four days for the new team to practice and get ready for the start of the 34th America's Cup.''
Oracle Team USA is owned by American business tycoon Larry Ellison, who one of the world's richest men.