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Still no ruling in case vs America’s Cup champ

September 3, 2013

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — The 34th America’s Cup starts Saturday afternoon and defending champion Oracle Team USA still doesn’t know how severely it will be punished for illegally modifying prototype catamarans in warmup regattas last year and earlier this year.

Organizers said late Monday afternoon that an expected decision by the international jury had been pushed back until Tuesday afternoon.

The penalties could be the harshest in the 162-year history of sailing’s marquee event, adding another stain to a regatta marred by the death of British sailor Andrew “Bart” Simpson when challenger Artemis Racing capsized during a training run on May 9.

While the jury has worked in confidentiality, there’s been speculation that Oracle Team USA could be docked a point or two in the best-of-17 America’s Cup match against Emirates Team New Zealand on San Francisco Bay. It’s also possible that some sailors could be barred from competing.

If the jury docks Oracle Team USA points, it’s believed that the powerhouse sailing team would be forced to start the regatta in a negative position. That would require it to win more than nine races to retain the oldest trophy in international sports.

Team New Zealand would still need to win nine races to take the Auld Mug back to the Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron in Auckland, its home from 1995-2003.

Oracle Team USA is owned by software tycoon Larry Ellison, one of the world’s richest individuals.

The illegal modifications to three 45-foot catamarans came to light in late July when the boats were being prepared for the Red Bull Youth America’s Cup, which began Sunday. The AC45s, sailed in the America’s Cup World Series, were prototypes for the high performance, 72-foot catamarans being sailed in this summer’s America’s Cup regatta.

Russell Coutts, a four-time America’s Cup winner who’s the CEO of Team Oracle USA, has said that the illegal modifications were done without the knowledge of management or the skippers. The modifications consisted of adding about five pounds of ballast.

Coutts has called the illegal modifications a “ridiculous” mistake that didn’t affect the boats’ performance.

The case has been before the jury since Aug. 4.

In mid-August, the measurement committee said that one of the boats previously believed to have been illegally modified was found to be within regulations.

Coincidentally, that boat was Oracle Coutts 5, which was skippered by Coutts in some of the regattas in question. The boats that were illegally modified were ones sailed by Jimmy Spithill, Team Oracle USA’s skipper, and Ben Ainslie, an Olympic star who’s sailing with Oracle this summer in hopes of launching a British challenge for the 35th America’s Cup.

Oracle Team USA forfeited its overall championships in the first two seasons of the America’s Cup World Series.

The jury has investigated individual syndicate employees under Rule 69 of the Racing Rules of Sailing, which deals with gross misconduct, and the syndicate is being investigated under Protocol Article 60, which is aimed at protecting the reputation of the America’s Cup.

The jury held an Article 60 hearing last Friday at which Coutts, Spithill, Oracle Team USA general manager Grant Simmer and shore team manager Mark Turner were called to testify.

The scandal has set the tone for what is expected to be one of the greatest grudge matches in America’s Cup history.

The bosses of Emirates Team New Zealand, managing director Grant Dalton and skipper Dean Barker, accused Oracle Team USA of cheating.

Coutts, who twice won the America’s Cup for his native New Zealand, said recently that Oracle Team USA is highly motivated because of Dalton’s barbs, which also included criticizing Ellison’s vision for a grand regatta that failed to materialize.

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