Picking on the weak and vulnerable is not a place to be. I was told from the inside, just before the practice race started that the British boat had a tail, ears and a wet nose. If you listened closely you could hear it bark. It wasn’t, however, obedient and didn’t really like ‘walkies’ out on the Hauraki Gulf. It was highly prone to roll-over and when it sat, it rarely got back up again. I had to make a judgement call. Go with the story in my usual manner or park it in the knowledge that it just can’t be so. It really won’t be that bad. Too much money has gone into this. Too much time has been spent on the water. Too many good people were involved.
But I looked at footage. I spoke to some more people. I dug, like a dog, a little deeper for a bone. Sure, I had heard from the very outset that the team were lions led by donkeys, and I include all the sailors in the lions category, but did effective management really make that much of a difference? And surely the brilliant and cohesive force of Ben would negate any back-room concerns. On this I was wrong. The sailors were/are being sent on a kamikazi mission by a non-existent management more keen to throw good people under the bus and protect their long-term positions than to solve the issues. Finger pointing and aggression are not the hallmarks of good, professional management. It’s pathetic.
I ran the story and as usual, there was shock. I was savaging the team. I was offering brutal analysis. Media outlets from all over the world called for comment. The team were hitting back and saying I was full of inaccuracies. Everything was on track. Developments were coming onstream. Rabbits were moments from being pulled out of hats. Pigs might fly. I was wrong and a turncoat for suggesting anything other than pure success for the Brits. Oh how I wish that were the case.
Let’s be frank, today’s racing was a sheer, utter, unadulterated embarrassment for Team Ineos. It was the saddest sight I have ever seen in sport. In the Cup, it’s almost unprecedented. When the Kiwis lost their rig in the 2003 Match, I remember sitting in the Media Centre surrounded by Kiwi journalists and a huge sense of collective national sadness and shock befell the place. I’d never seen that before. Just how much it meant. Last night, watching live on YouTube from 2am to 5.30am, I felt that sadness. I experienced that shock. I sat in utter disbelief as the Brits capitulated. I could not believe my eyes.
This isn’t a nice feeling and actually detracts from the outstandingly brilliant sport being played out in the other races. I watched them but had a lump in my throat. This is like watching a crash in Formula 1 when the racing is stopped and the helicopter is called trackside. You feel for those nearest and dearest. You feel for the families involved. The children cheering on their hero Daddies. The parents back at home sheltering from a Covid nightmare hoping for brief sporting respite in the sun of Auckland. The supporters up all night who have had a resolute blinker on reports like mine of recent days. The mates who know nothing about sailing but have pride in what you are doing. It’s horrible for all involved.
Ben was a beaten man at the press conference. The other skippers were uncomfortable in his presence. He admitted that they have ‘serious problems’ and when pushed by the peerless Ed Gorman from the Times in London – incidentally the only British print media journalist worth his salt, qualified and good enough to ask proper questions – it was evident that the game was effectively over. Ben echoed what I’ve been saying about the rash, blind belief in upgrades and modifications at this late stage of the cycle. The best that they can hope for is to get the boat on the water and keep the deltas somewhere respectable. Perhaps even sneak a win or two – you never know? Being beaten by TWO legs today in the Prada match-up and then slaughtered by American Magic is plain and simple embarrassing.
So what do they do now. King Kenny had it about right on the commentary. Close the base doors. Turn off the media. Don’t read anything written – especially by me. Don’t talk to anyone. Get your heads down and work like fury. As Ben said, it’s an absolute privilege to even be at the Cup and now is the time for collective effort.
Personally, I think it’s time for change and I said as much in a recent post. If I were the Ineos sporting director with the boss coming to town and my job massively on the line, I would be sitting down with the sailors and listening to what needs to change. I would be making swift, decisive, culling actions. Remember how brutal Larry Ellison and Russell Coutts were at 8-1 down? We are in that phase. No sacred cows. Get rid of the rotten core at the heart of this campaign and let me be absolutely clear, that rotten core is not out sailing. It’s all in the backroom and it has to change.
The story of this Cup will be how they respond. The next few days are critical. Heads must roll and a new impetus found. End of story.