Oracle foiling any real challenge to cup reign

LARRY ELLISON: Oracle's billionaire owner with the Amercia's Cup.
LARRY ELLISON: Oracle's billionaire owner with the Amercia's Cup.

OPINION: The history of the America's Cup has always been loaded in favour of the holder.

It's one of the reasons it took a challenger 132 years to break the New York Yacht Club's iron-like grip on the Auld Mug when the Aussies had their breakthrough victory in 1983.

It's done the rounds a fair bit since then but now that it's back in the hands of an American, the rules are being tweaked to ridiculous levels in favour of billionaire Larry Ellison's champion Oracle syndicate.

I don't profess to know all the intricacies of yachting - far from it. But I've long had a fascination with the politics of the America's Cup - it's what sets it apart in a sporting sense.

When the 78-page protocol for the next edition of the America's Cup was thumped on my desk this week, I approached it with plenty of apprehension.

Apprehension because of the sheer volume and detail in those pages. But also apprehension because of the potential damage it could deliver to Team New Zealand and this country's proud history in sport's oldest contest.

I know my microscope isn't as powerful as the legal eagles and sailing experts at Team New Zealand, but it was strong enough to bring into sharp focus enough concerns in those pages to put a real question mark over the sense of taking on Ellison.

We saw last time how difficult it was to beat him. Even when New Zealand had the cup seemingly in the bag at 8-1, Ellison was able to pour his vast resources into his operation to bankroll arguably the greatest comeback in sporting history.

Having survived that, Ellison has now tweaked the rules to such a level that it is highly questionable anyone willing to put their millions into a challenge for 2017 will be able to wrestle the Auld Mug away from Ellison and the Golden Gate Yacht Club.

He gets to build two boats while challengers are restricted to one.

The risks of terminal damage to these high-speed cats is very real as was borne out in the last regatta. Larry is allowed a replacement, his opponents aren't.

And Larry has even worked his team into the challengers series. Not only do Oracle enjoy two-boat testing, but they get the chance to get up close and personal with their opponents before the big dance.

The challengers used to have their own domain. It's what gave them some sense of fairness since the Louis Vuitton Cup challenger series was introduced in 1987. Larry has wiped that out.

He's also getting rid of the International Jury that stalked him during the San Francisco series, allowing Team New Zealand to introduce foiling when the Americans hadn't thought it feasible, introducing harsh penalties for Oracle's cheating and generally keeping a logical edge to the regatta.

Instead there's now a three- man arbitration panel that threatens to have reduced powers.

And, surprise, surprise, Oracle have also opened the doors for spying on the water, something they were found guilty of in the leadup to the last cup.

These are just a few of the key points loading things Larry's way.

There's also a ridiculously shallow nationality rule that will continue to protect his crew of international hired guns, a ridiculously expensive and complicated three-year buildup series and some big money numbers just to enter - US$2 million with another US$1m insurance bond.

All this from a detailed document missing the key ingredient of an actual venue that has major ramifications for every syndicate looking to entice multimillion-dollar sponsorships.

As challengers of record, the Hamilton Island Yacht Club, have done the syndicates on their side of the start line no favours. They have been weak, allowing Ellison far too much leeway and putting a question mark over the sustainability of the entire event.

Sunday News