America’s Cup 2021: AUT’s Sailing Professor Mark Orams – ‘Bad Blood’ – the messy backstory to Prada Cup standoff

The battle over when the Prada Cup starts again is a symptom of the ugly divorce between Team New Zealand and Luna Rossa.

While sanity has prevailed with racing recommencing on schedule, this spat further emphasises the acrimony between the defender and Challenger of Record.

What was once a respectful and productive partnership has deteriorated into open hostility and name-calling.

Some love this type of America’s Cup conflict. But it does a great sport no favours and draws understandable criticism from many.

There is a significant back story to the current situation.

While officially the disagreement on the go-ahead on schedule or delay call is between America’s Cup Events Ltd (ACE) and the Challenger of Record 36 (COR36) entities, the reality is that ACE is a subsidiary of TNZ and COR36 of Luna Rossa.

But this is yet another America’s Cup story of wheels within wheels and deals within deals.

Cue the theme song “Bad Blood” by Taylor Swift as I unpack this one for you.

The once happy marriage between TNZ and the Italians is over. It has been souring for some time, exacerbated by TNZ not denying they’ve got a new dance partner in Ineos Team UK.

If TNZ successfully defend the America’s Cup, they will ditch Luna Rossa and partner up with Ineos.

The counter from Luna Rossa is to form a new partnership with Alinghi and Ernesto Bertarelli, the double America’s Cup winner.

This is the backdrop and I’m afraid it will continue to get worse if, as expected, Luna Rossa becomes the challenger for the 36th America’s Cup match race.

The whole running of the event is based on mutual consent between the Challenger of Record and the defender and they are supposed to get around the table and find agreement. The goodwill required to make this work appears to be well and truly gone with the wind.

There were once much happier times between TNZ and Luna Rossa including financially, and in the creation of the AC75 class. There was a gentleman’s agreement that the Italians would be the Challengers of Record for 2021 made prior to TNZ’s victory in Bermuda.

But fractures started to appear when Prada CEO and Luna Rossa syndicate boss Patrizio Bertelli made some critical statements in the Italian media about the costs and complexity of the new AC75 foiling monohulls, mutually agreed between the two teams for the 2021 Cup.

Then Luna Rossa appointed TNZ nemesis Jimmy Spithill to their team.

Then Brad Butterworth – a fierce rival of TNZ boss Grant Dalton – became Luna Rossa’s liaison chief with Auckland’s local authorities.


No surprise then that TNZ considered finding a new Challenger of Record.

Initially, American Magic were a possible partner. Terry Hutchinson and Dean Barker are ex-TNZ members and the New York Yacht Club has the longest history in the Cup.

But this idea collapsed when key American Magic backers publicly criticised the AC75s and promoted a return to displacement non-foiling yachts.

Enter potential new partner number two in Ineos Team UK, whose backer Sir Jim Ratcliffe’s arrival in Auckland encouraged this option.

He appears committed to the America’s Cup for the long haul, the Brits have a good relationship with Team NZ and – vitally -Grant Dalton, who has lived in the UK for a lot of the last decade.

Ineos kingpin Sir Ben Ainslie was also a member of TNZ during the 2007 challenge. The likely TNZ-Ineos marriage has been an “open secret” for some weeks.

The counter punch: Luna Rossa and Alinghi’s Bertarelli getting together. Yowza.

It was Bertarelli who enticed Russell Coutts, Butterworth and co. away from TNZ in creating the only brand-new syndicate to ever win the America’s Cup. Many of my sailing friends still are bitter about this 20 years later.

Luna Rossa are 4–0 up in the finals and they have the strong upper hand. They absolutely want to get on with these finals and send Ineos packing. Light winds which favour Luna Rossa are forecast for the weekend.

On the other hand Ineos, the new best mate of Team NZ, wanted a delay.

ACE and Ineos lost this one with Luna Rossa prevailing. I expect the same result on the water this weekend.

If this prediction eventuates, there will be no love lost between the challenger and defender in the 36th America’s Cup match.

Professor Mark Orams is a former NZ and world champion sailor, Team New Zealand member, author, environmentalist and Professor of Sport and Recreation at the Auckland University of Technology.

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