Thursday, 6 September 2007

The Afterguard's Interpretation Of TEAMORIGIN's Statement

On Tuesday 4th September 2007, TEAMORIGIN released a statement setting out its view of issues concerning the Protocol and subsequent developments for the 33rd America's Cup; The Afterguard reproduced the release at the time in full (see Here) and promised to return with its take on the statement.

Setting out our stall
Firstly, its only right that The Afterguard nails its colours to the mast and defines its own perspective, pre-protocol:

The Afterguard exists due to a passion for the exhilaration of watching great yacht racing, and a respect for the standards required and upheld by crews in the America's Cup; as a British site, the historic significance is appealing to us also. It's of great embarrassment to those in Great Britain who care that the Cup, initially contested in this country, has never been held by a British team; the reasons for this have been many and varied over the course of time, but even the most critical would (hopefully) concede that this fact does not truly reflect our nation's history and undeniable connection to the sea - recent results in Olympic trials in China are, we would like to think, more representative of our standards of seamanship.

With this in mind, we acknowledge that we are unashamedly and unapologetically 'pro' any British organisation that seeks to address this anomaly by challenging for the cup - and this time around it has fallen to TEAMORIGIN. We support this new team fully, but hope that in the best of British character, we are seen to remain fair and balanced - and supportive of all good sport, regardless of the nationalities concerned. We would like to think that we wouldn't flinch from calling any team representing our nation to task if it failed to uphold the sportsmanship and sense of fair play we claim to hold so dear - it could be no other way.

We would also care to draw attention to TEAMORIGIN's founder, Sir Keith Mills, his background and status within the sports industry, as we believe that the statement released recently can be best understood with reference to its team principle.

Although it often appears hastily thrown-together, some of The Afterguard's content is provided with good reason; take for example our profile of Sir Keith Mills (read it Here). We don't perceive Sir Keith as a dyed-in-the-wool sailor whose infectious enthusiasm for the open sea has led over many many years to his forming a 'band of brothers' to do battle for some silverware and to right the wrongs of Britain's history in the Cup. He is an undeniably enthusiastic sailor, and many envy his experience in competing and winning (as crew) the 1999 Clipper Round The World Yacht Race, or might admire his support of his Clipper crew's young skipper, Alex Thomson, but Sir Keith is no Sir Robin Knox, he's first and foremost a successful business entrepreneur.

In the business world his numerous successes outweigh any failures significantly; success in the advertising industry was followed in the world of customer loyalty programmes not once, in the guise of Air Miles, but more recently for a second time, with the UK's highly successful Nectar loyalty scheme.

Sir Keith has since taken on perhaps sport's greatest (business) challenge, mounting a successful bid to host the Olympic Games. This is a feat not of gold, silver and bronze, but of business politics of literally global proportions; and for those unaware, this was done in the face of what ranged from at best typical British indifference to at times harsh criticism and pessimism for what was generally regarded an 'outside' chance; yet the bid was successful (and for a brief while at least the British public showed its gratitude).

Don't be misled into thinking an Olympics bid is all about ensuring the right running-track surface; the Olympics is unique in presenting a huge civil development programme undertaken on a uniquely short time scale, incorporating urban development, transportation infrastructure building, renewal and regeneration, sponsorship, fundraising and much much more. Sir Keith has been busy over the last 3 or 4 years changing the face of large parts of the city of London in a way which will affect generations to come. To get national & local government & officials representing dozens of foreign organisations to reach consensus, to pander to or otherwise meet the disparate requirements of IOC officials and other organisations, takes a particular and well-honed set of skills - the ability to build a team around himself to share the burden, a diplomacy to soothe away the concerns of others and an ability 'to cut through numerous layers of crap' (our choice of words) to get things done, amongst them. Sir Keith, while a diplomat, is no shrinking violet, and appears to face harsh criticism well, whether from a disaffected UK public in relation to the 2012 Olympics, or as recently as in the last two weeks when not always acting to dampen media speculation over board decisions (or not) concerning team manager Martin Jol at Tottenham Hotspur Football Club, where Sir Keith is a non-executive Director (Note for US readers: a top 5 UK team in the sport of Soccer - our national obsession which faces media scrutiny and criticism like no other).

He may have established an enviable reputation in the sports industry, but Sir Keith remains a business man first and foremost; he makes no apology for the impact of money on sport, and this is clear in the way he deals forthrightly with public criticism of the status quo during a recently broadcast BBC TV transmission (follow our story Here to watch the programme stream - further evidence of method in The Afterguard's madness). There's much to be learned from watching Sir Keith's defence of the impact of big business on sport.

When The Afterguard set out to follow the fortunes of Sir Keith's TEAMORIGIN, we were under no illusion that the team's founder sought to be the next Dame Ellen; his aspirations likely sit more akin to that of F1's Bernie Ecclestone; Sir Keith sees much sport in terms of large scale revenue-generating extravaganzas, and if there's some urban development to be undertaken, so much the better. Bernie builds race tracks, Sir Keith builds Olympic Villages and aspires to build America's Cup ports. Funnily enough, Bernie just bought Queens Park Rangers (along with Renault F1's Flavio Briatore), another UK soccer team. Neither men are strangers to seeking to control the finances of sports.

What does distinguish Sir Keith from Bernie, as it distinguishes TEAMORIGIN from teams such as Alinghi and BMW Oracle Racing, is financial resource. Our investigations suggest a net worth of approximately £200 Million; Sir Keith himself has admitted the figure is 'North of £100 Million' although he states he doesn't know where others get their figures from. We hope Sir Keith will forgive us for pointing out that this is a significantly less than the billions attributed to Bertarelli, Ellison or indeed Ecclestone. And a net worth of £200 Million means much less liquidity, cash ready to dedicate to crew salaries, boat design and marketing campaigns.

We suspect that behind Sir Keith's every movement and utterance is an understanding of the implications to his team's financial well being. If all this focus on finance dismays some, let's not forget this team has yet to officially announce more than Mike Sanderson as Team Director - the time for sailing talk is still to come. TEAMORIGIN has a number of purposes; to win the Auld Mug, yes, but also in doing so to seize the spoils that it entails. Sir Keith is an entrepreneur let us not forget.

The Afterguard believes that with this perspective on the background and motivations behind the formation of TEAMORIGIN, the reasoning behind the team's early challenge and supportive stance towards ACM is largely self-explanatory.

Picking Our Way
It is The Afterguard's opinion (nothing more) that the recent statement represents the team principle's take on affairs, and were we given the opportunity, we might précis it thus: Cut the crap guys, it's only sailing; us little guys can't afford to stand around while you two rut; let's put a show on and keep the America's Cup on the road. It's probably just as well we haven't been afforded the opportunity.

The recent statement from TEAMORIGIN sets out the agenda for the Team Member Introduction at the start of the Southampton Boatshow in a little over a week's time; it's a prime opportunity for the newly-formed team to grab some headlines, talk the talk and catch the eye of potential sponsors; any already on board will provide a furrowed brow or two to soothe over recent headlines - in other words, not the time for the Cup to be dragged through the mud in court.

The statement is complementary of ACM's conduct in the 32nd America's Cup (cutting through the afore-mentioned 'mud', it played well to the media, provided great sport and made money; not much to complain about there). It speaks often of 'commercially viable', 'formats', 'modernisation', 'hospitality and sponsor programmes' - not much disguising of a businessman who knows how to run a successful bid to stage the Olympic Games. Sailing fans were probably not the team's first thought as they composed their statement.

If anyone reading the statement was shocked to read of TEAMORIGIN's support for ACM, then they clearly didn't see the ACM/TEAMORIGIN release of 23rd July 2007, when the team's challenge was officially accepted. If you don't agree, you don't sign up. If you sign up, you don't disagree. This is pretty simple logic really.

What did raise the odd Afterguard eyebrow was the statement's calling of BMW Oracle Racing and the urging of GGYC and the team to withdraw their suit. But TEAMORIGIN has backed ACM all along, and the court case is bad for business; especially for (but not restricted to) a new team with (relatively) limited funding and a need to risk-manage potential sources of sponsorship.

TEAMORIGIN see ACM's side of the COR debacle. The Afterguard see this as a row over semantics; it's not ideal, but it's true that Desafio Espanol is hardly a bolt from the blue, and haven't we become used to the Iberian - or should we say 'Valencian' - way of these things happening? So sometimes a little magic keeps the various parties singing from the same hymn sheet. Salt Lake City anyone?

We'll break cover for just a brief moment at this point. Changes to protocol had been intended for a number of years, according to recent ACM statements. Valencia for the 33rd was a badly kept secret (though Spanish politics kept it at least in the balance for a while). We doubt it was difficult not to foresee a CNEV-like requirement. It says little for the great minds involved that a little more smoke and mirrors couldn't have been applied to make this all run more smoothly. It's a costly oversight for all involved (not least to The Afterguard's keyboard!).

TEAMORIGIN claim to have been treated fairly by ACM and from their perspective they see the organisation to have acted properly. Well they would, having been accepted as challengers. BMW Oracle Racing provide an alternative opinion, and we see how it appears to each party. We'll let the judge decide if BMW Oracle Racing's case is proven.

As to boats, well... The situation has changed since the Protocol's introduction. Those on board are now promised influence over decisions; those who refuse to play along can't expect to be asked to contribute; it's not squeeky-clean, and that's regrettable, but TEAMORIGIN express they are content with the situation. They challenged. They would. There's nothing inherently wrong or indeed surprising in that.

The Afterguard does struggle with the interpretation presented by TEAMORIGIN when it comes to, in our opinion, the most contentious aspect of the original protocol; the impact of the 'one boat per team' limitation on the 'series' to determine the final challenger. We understand TEAMORIGIN's enthusiasm to limit costs by employing enough people to crew only one boat, and can see how that might help all budget-concious teams, and perhaps level the playing field (slightly).

We also understand that with such a restriction, the Defender is entitled to wish not to be disadvantaged by such a rule, and so must seek a means of racing against challengers. But we have now read the same question regarding the potential for unfair elimination (and more) posed several times, and each official answer says to us 'we have no answer'. We say there is no fair one boat proposition on the table, and we are struggling to understand why any of the officially challenging teams to date would accept this, TEAMORIGIN included.

The TEAMORIGIN statement includes:

It allows for regular official racing to be run in Valencia. Teams may race their opponents in practice whilst simultaneously running parallel hospitality and sponsor programmes.

Okay, revenue-generating opportunities duly recognised. Pre-regattas, a challenger series, America's Cup On Ice, whatever - spectacle is good.

But UITG/Desafio/ETNZ/Shosholoza/TEAMORIGIN, you've each agreed to participate in qualifying heats where you'll face the hot favourite, who you can't beat by winning, who can eliminate you by racing well, and can inadvertently allow your opponents to progress (possibly at your expense) through the competition if the defenders have a bad day. As Queen Victoria came to know only too well, 'there is no second' in the America's Cup. Have we (and many other commentators) missed something fundamental here?
The sport for example?

Our only hope is that the temperately-natured Michel Hodara was thinking about this specifically when he referred to the possibility that the 33rd Protocol might have been too short and simple (read our coverage Here). Otherwise, we feel all the fuss over 'sham' CORs is nothing in comparison to the apparent taking of a major sporting event and turning it into little more than a pot-luck duck shoot. Every time ACM explain the situation as the only route to a fair chance for the defender, we hear 'one boat can't work fairly for all'. Read our coverage of the 'non-answer' to the same question posed Here & Here. Oh, and Here also. Oh, and we even got to ask the question ourselves out of sheer exasperation Here (we're awaiting any 'official' response but aren't about to suffocate ourselves). As is so often the case, it appears to be not what's said, but what's not said. Again and again. Would somebody please answer the question ASKED and tell us it isn't so? We don't for a moment believe a few commentators on the web have seen something none of the challenging teams have identified, so at least on behalf of The Afterguard, would someone please explain where we're going wrong in our Protocol interpretation?

A Net Cast Further Afield
While The Afterguard is on a roll and breaking normal diplomatic cover and causing offence all round, we must just comment on conduct at the recent Farr 40 World Championships in Copenhagen. We're largely dependent upon the insightful pen of Stuart Alexander, via his wonderful BootsnBoats blog, for a story about conduct (all round) that appears worthy of the playground.

The Afterguard must make it clear that we have the utmost respect for Tom Ehman and believe him to be of unquestionable integrity, but as a litigant against SNG on behalf of GGYC, we are perplexed at his continued stewardship of the Farr 40 World's jury, a competition in which the defendant in his action (Alinghi) was participating. Wouldn't the right thing for the organisers to do have been to suggest that the foreman of the jury step aside having recognised not a likelihood of a conflict of interests coming into play, but the mere possibility that there could be one? It surely wouldn't have been considered a slight whatsoever on Tom to recognise the difficult position he was placed in, and such action would certainly have been understandable. The next thing we hear is that Alinghi, having finished second, did not participate in the prize-giving. We don't yet know Alinghi's explanation for such behaviour, but in view of the only circumstances we can imagine to justify their actions, we send them our good wishes and hope that everyone is ok.

No Offence Intended
We would like to make it clear that we wish nobody ill, that we hope to be seen as fair and balanced, irrespective of our support of one team or another. We love the sport of sailing, we wish to show our respect to all who contribute to it, be it out on the course during the best of times, or when struggling for reconciliation or to uphold fair play during the worst of times. have we excused too many sins? Possibly, but we've grown accustomed to champions mounting a spirited defence. Unless someone wishes to tackle a 21st century rewrite of the Deed of Gift, we should all probably get used to it.

We hope we have the measure of TEAMORIGIN's recent statement when we attempt to echo its perceived sentiment - 'lets go sailing'. To that end, we look forward to TEAMORIGIN's forthcoming crew presentation, when both the team's focus and our own can at last turn to what happens at sea, and the finances can take care of themselves.


Anonymous said...

Do you really think Origin has any chance of winning the AC???

You must be dreaming. Get real....

Origin is just an Alinghi puppet. I doubt Mills will make any money out of that and I bet he won't be around for the 34th Cup..

The Editor said...

I believe that TEAMORIGIN are striving to establish themselves as a serious contender in AC33, with a view to winning AC34 (whether they would state this in public or not, they probably don't expect to win this time around; for any team, it's a two challenge process, minimum).

I don't agree with the Alinghi puppet allegation, simply because I don't think anyone would invest tens of millions of pounds to be anyone's puppet in a competition we both agree they are unlikely to win this time around.

We'll have to see if your predictions come true.

In the meantime, thanks for stopping by.