A conflict between the head of the Alinghi yachting syndicate, Ernesto Bertarelli, and his New Zealand skipper, Russell Coutts, has placed question marks over Switzerland's challenge at the next America’s Cup in 2007.
Coutts, who is the most dominant skipper in America’s Cup history, has fallen out with Bertarelli over management decisions.
The storm came to light at a friendly regatta for the UBS Trophy that took place last month at Newport in the United States.
Alinghi, which won the America’s Cup off New Zealand last year, is now facing a future without Coutts at the helm.
At the Newport event, Coutts refused to take the helm of Alinghi against the Americans in BMW Oracle, clearly indicating his disagreement at the politics within the Swiss challenge.
“We hoped that he would take the helm but unfortunately he did not want to,” explained Bertarelli, the billionaire Swiss CEO of Geneva-based biotechnology firm Serono.
His comment has led to much speculation about the extent of the row, but it is clear that the loss of Coutts at the start of the campaign for the 2007 America’s Cup would be a setback.
The New Zealander, who is unrivalled in the sport, has won the trophy three times and is an astute leader of men.
After leaving Team New Zealand, Coutts became one of the dynamos behind the Alinghi victory, together with Bertarelli, who looked after the finances, as well as Michel Bonnefous and Michel Hodara, the project managers.
This “dream team” is now, for the first time, having problems.
One reason is that the situation for the new defenders of the cup has changed. The creation of the America’s Cup Management (ACM), which is responsible for the next event in Valencia, has meant that Bonnefous and Hodara are at a distance from the internal affairs of the Alinghi team.
Loss of authority
With the creation of this “neutral” body, Coutts lost a part of his decision-making authority. It is no secret that he fervently supported the Portuguese bid out of the four candidates (Valencia, Lisbon, Marseilles and Naples) to organise the 2007 event.
The New Zealander has not been shy in adding fuel to the rumours that have been flying around. He said he was now talking to Bertarelli through "intermediaries".
He has spoken of “resolving the differences”, but added that “it is not excluded that talks will end in a separation of the two parties.”
In Newport, no one gave the impression of wanting to leave the cosy nest of the Alinghi team.
But Brad Butterworth, the tactical genius at Coutts’s right hand, told the Geneva daily newspaper “Le Temps” that the management at ACM did not have a very good understanding as far as sporting aspects were concerned.
It is clear that the conflict is also worrying the half-dozen New Zealanders who hold key positions with the Swiss yacht.
swissinfo, Pierre-Antoine Preti
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.
A dispute between Alinghi team boss Ernesto Bertarelli and New Zealand skipper Russell Coutts may threaten Switzerland’s challenge for the America’s Cup in 2007.
The two are said to have differences over management decisions.
The storm broke out at a regatta at Newport in the United States in mid-June.