We’re fortunate to have made some very intelligent friends over the decade or so we’ve been working for Sailing Anarchy, and when they ask us serious questions about our reporting, we listen. So when we got an email a couple of months ago about the tone of some of our America’s Cup editorials from one of the top people at a highly respected team, our ears perked up – partly because this dude is almost frighteningly smart and extremely respectful, and partly because his questions were reasonable and not defensive. He agreed that much of our criticism of the ridiculous delays and the lack of transparency in the AC was accurate, but asked me if ‘killing the event with negativity is really a step forward?’ He also challenged me to ‘explain what changes in the AC would encourage us that things are changing?’
With the full competitor lineup about to be released during today’s dog-and-pony in London, it’s time for me to answer his questions.
Q) Is negative criticism or ‘killing the event with negativity’ a step forward?
A) Whether criticism is a ‘step forward’ is irrelevant; we don’t work for the America’s Cup and we have no duty to ‘move the AC forward’; this is similar to the criticism we’ve gotten for writing about regattas that allow littering in the sea and for writing about classes that are being run into the ground, and our answer is always the same: We are firm believers in transparency, and to us, letting the sailing public know what is really going on behind the scenes is always a step forward, especially over the long term, and even more especially when reality is shrouded in secrecy and bullshit.
We advocated for and applauded the move to catamarans when the majority of the world’s sailing publications were shrieking tradition and sacrilege – actually, we’ve been asking for it since about 2003. We approved of the format for AC34 and prayed for a great venue like San Francisco. And we lauded the beautifully sorted and widely available coverage for the most exciting regatta in sailing history. But we could not remain quiet in the face of the mounting fuckups while ACAlphabet paraded their stunning incompetence in front of the world. That’s what the other publications did, and if no one questions the bullshit, it will always be repeated. We’d prefer not to see an AC35 with the same problems as AC34: Woefully low North American ratings and broadcast pickup, failure to meet any of the in-person audience/SF occupancy/ACOC sponsorship raising goals, a fatal accident whose cause has – until today – still not been properly reported on, safety rules that changed the outcome of the event, and a venue that feels lied to and abused by the sport of sailing.
What my friend was really asking was “do we understand that our negativism is actually hurting the America’s Cup?” My answer is very simple: That’s not our problem. We didn’t cheat. We didn’t fuck up the broadcast deal. We didn’t cut the promotional budget to pieces halfway through the cycle. We didn’t make up a bunch of ridiculous projections for the SF government and fail to get close to them.. And we certainly didn’t cover up the cause of death of a famous sailor. So quit blaming us.
Q) What moves would encourage you that things are changing?
A) As we’ve said ten million times, lack of transparency is one of the sport’s biggest problems. It’s got its own language, complicated and esoteric rules, centuries of history and tradition, and is mostly run – at least in America – by a cultish bunch of odd rich people in archaic clothing. AC33 had the potential to change all that in huge ways, yet it failed spectacularly, and somehow, the guy responsible has never even acknowledged his abject failure or explained how he will prevent the exact same failures from happening again. That’s what we would need to see in order to think about getting behind the next AC – a little openness and honesty instead of the same old back room deals that have governed the America’s Cup for a century. So when you are watching the press conference today, consider the following questions that we’d like answered; get us that, and we’ll believe that times are changing. And consider the fact that, for four years, Russell Coutts has consistently refused to sit down for an interview with the world’s most widely read sailing website. There’s only one explanation for that: Fear.
WHY DID BART DIE?
As we’ve said over and over, we’re not at all happy that there still has not been a single official comment on the cause of the accident that led to Andrew Simpson’s death, and we frankly don’t understand it. We remember Formula 1 legend Ayrton Senna’s death all too well, and while the public investigation process was not an easy one, it’s amazing to us that AC organizers did not insist on even the most basic investigation or transparency for Andrew Simpson’s cause of death. The Senna case resulted in a finding against Williams co-founder Patrick Head after a massive investigation that included a 600-page analysis of the crash; while Head would never go to jail for his ‘omitted control’ culpability, at least the Italian courts provided closure for hundreds of millions of Senna fans around the world.
We know that Artemis Racing conducted their own investigation into Simpson’s death, yet no one we’ve met will admit to seeing it. We know the Coast Guard had a think about it too. And we know that the San Francisco police are required to investigate any death. Yet when we asked the America’s Cup where those documents were, they had no answer, and that’s ridiculous. These reports should have been required by ACRM to be released to the public, and an open inquiry into the design, build, and management of Big Red – and the responsibility for her failure – should have been undergone immediately after the accident. We don’t blame Artemis for the silence – they have good reason to be quiet. But the event’s organizers have a duty to do more if they want to be considered anything but a failure and a joke.
We hate that we’ve had to, but we’ve done a pile of sleuthing ourselves, and thanks to Johntommy Rosas and the America’s Cup Trust, we finally got our hands on the SFPD’s official 86-page investigation into the Artemis accident, and for the first time today, we’re sharing it with the world. We’ll leave the conclusions to you guys, but it’s not brain surgery; as we all knew when he loudly acted like he never said it, Nathan Outteridge’s words to his dad were pretty accurate – the boat ‘folded like a taco’ when it dug the hull in during a bearaway. There wasn’t a pitchpole – according to Artemis design coordinator Adam May’s witness statement, the hull failed. Why did it fail? Is anyone responsible, as they were for Senna, or was it just a non-racing ‘racing incident’? We don’t know, but if the America’s Cup is to be the ‘tier 1 sport’ that Coutts, Ellison, and new AC Commercial Commissioner Dr. Harvey have repeatedly claimed is their goal, it’s time to act like a tier 1 sport, where you investigate deaths and hold people accountable for them.
Until then, the only place in the world you can find the investigation report is right here. Warning: It’s not for the faint of heart.
Why Did AC34 Miss Every Media/Comms/Audience Target?
We’re not going to re-hash this one – we’ve done it too many times. The dismal ratings are public knowledge, as was NBC’s refusal to pick up the final races for a national broadcast audience – even when the comeback was in full swing. But Russell Coutts has somehow not been called to the carpet to explain this abject failure. Were they the wrong targets? Is it impossible to make sailing a mainstream sport in America? We’d all like to know.
What Happened To Continuity?
Coutts told us a dozen times that one of the AC’s big issues is continuity; that it’s incredibly tough to run a commercially viable sports league when it isn’t owned by a reliable group. This is surely true, and Coutts’ solution the last time around was a financial windfall of several million dollars for the winner of the AC if they maintained some part of the AC event management structure he planned in AC34.
Yet when Oracle won, there was no continuity. Near as we can tell, there was no management; just Russell and a couple of trusted advisors secretly shopping venues around and trying to create a bit of a bidding war. The incredible action we saw in San Francisco? Forgotten. The ‘reliable pro-sports league’? Gone. Instead we have a year of silence while all the excitement fades into the background, and we’re right back on the same old Coutts train. And we’d like to get off it.
If you would too, start asking the AC folks the same questions we have, and don’t let up. Hit them over here and over here. If Russell Coutts or his new commercial chief are serious about what they claim, they’ll answer.
But if all the talk is bullshit and smokescreen, designed to cover up the fact that Coutts’ job is really to win the Cup and neither he nor Larry gives a shit about the rest of it, they’ll continue to say nothing, admit nothing, and accomplish nothing – besides retaining the Cup, of course.