In most sports, referees are the final arbiters of disputes. Apparently in sailing, it’s the courts.
Shown above is Larry Ellison’s futuristic looking trimaran, boat with a large main hull with two smaller flaking hulls. He’s suing a competitor for a chance to compete in America’s Cup, sailing’s top prize. Don’t ask me the specifics of the case since the article conveniently fails to mention any… However, while poking around for an answer, I discovered some other interesting things.
The structure of the Cup makes it inevitable that the winners will be those with strongest negotiating skills and deepest pockets — in other words, a perfect climate for billionaires. The key difference from many other sports is that there is no centralized organizing commission. Instead, it’s administrated by the winner of the previous match with only an ambiguous document, the Deed of Gift, as guidance. One of the few specifications in the document is that all disputes are to be settled by New York’s Supreme Court (you can see where this is going…). Other than this, the winner is free to set the rules however they want.
Imagine the chaos if the NY Giants had the right to change the stadium size, specify the number of players, and change the scoring rules simply because of their previous Superbowl win.
Surprisingly though, things were fine for many years–113 years to be precise–because the New York Yacht Club won every time, the longest winning streak in sports history. However, In 1983, the Australians won and the cup has moved around since. Along with this shakeup has come a steady stream of intrigue, politics and legal drama. For instance, one winning team changed the rules to allow for a team to use foreign nationals; they promptly scooped up the top New Zealand sailors.
This latest case is no exception to this trend. The real winners — no surprise — are the lawyers:
The idea 120 years ago was for the America’s Cup to create “friendly competition between foreign countries,” but in this case, it has led to enough billable hours for lawyers to buy boats of their own.