The Swiss team which won the America’s Cup has sacked helmsman, Russell Coutts, for what it says are “repeated violations of his duties”.
The sacking follows rumours of a rift between Coutts and the team’s billionaire owner Ernesto Bertarelli.
Announcing the sacking, Alinghi cited Coutts’s refusal to skipper its yacht at last month’s UBS trophy regatta in Newport, Rhode Island. The team said Coutts had also failed to sail with them at other regattas.
“Team Alinghi is left with no choice but to terminate its contract with Russell Coutts,” Alinghi said in a statement. “Repeated violations of his duties resulted in Coutts’ dismissal."
The statement went on to list all the regattas in which Coutts had refused to participate.
For his part, Coutts said he had concerns about the management style of Alinghi owner, Ernesto Bertarelli, as well as the direction of the team, but said he was surprised to have been sacked.
“I was surprised to receive a brief phone call from Ernesto Bertarelli's lawyers which was apparently immediately followed by a media release issued by Bertarelli's staff,” Coutts said from Portugal.
Since steering the team to victory off Auckland in March 2003, Coutts has had contract differences with Alinghi and refused to sail with the syndicate until the differences were worked out.
In a statement responding to the decision, Coutts said: “In an attempt to address these issues we entered into formal mediation and have been in mediation for some time – a process I had understood to still be underway.”
Coutts added that a rule change, proposed by Bertarelli, prohibits sailors from moving between American’s Cup teams. If approved, said Coutts, it would likely prevent him from sailing in the next challenge.
Coutts’ former team, New Zealand, said his sacking was irrelevant. Team head, Grant Dalton, refused to comment on whether Coutts might be offered a position for the next Cup.
“In terms of Team New Zealand we won't get into what has happened to Coutts," said team manager Grant Dalton. “It is completely irrelevant to us.”
Coutts' decision to join Alinghi in May 2000 sparked controversy in New Zealand.
swissinfo with agencies
Alinghi took the America’s Cup last March when it beat Team New Zealand 5-0 off Auckland.
It became the first European team in history to win the cup.
The next competition will take place off Valencia, Spain, in 2007.
Coutts has won the America's Cup three times, with Team New Zealand in 1995 and 2000 and with Alinghi at Team New Zealand's expense in March last year.
His record of 14 consecutive wins in Cup races - nine with New Zealand and five with Alinghi - is the best in the Cup's 153-year history.
His former employer, Ernesto Bertarelli, is boss of Serono, Europe’s largest biotechnology company, based in Geneva.