Thu, Jul 29, 2004 - Page 19 News List

Russell Coutts wants to get back on Swiss team

AP , WELLINGTON, NEW ZEALAND

Alinghi Chef Ernesto Bertarelli, left, and Skipper Russell Coutts celebrate their victory of the America's Cup in Geneva, Switzerland in this March 8, 2003 file photo. America's Cup holder Team Alinghi said Monday it has sacked Coutts.

PHOTO: AP

Leading skipper Russell Coutts isn't ruling out rejoining the team he led to two America's Cup triumphs after being fired from the Swiss team he helped build to defeat his old mates in New Zealand.

New Zealander Coutts on Wednesday said he was considering his legal and other options for the 2007 regatta off Valencia, Spain, after the Alinghi syndicate fired him Monday for alleged violations of his employment contract.

To be eligible to sail in Valencia, he'll have to challenge a Cup rule -- recently introduced by Alinghi -- that prevents sailors from switching from one crew to another if they have worked on their current crew for more than six months, until after the next regatta.

Coutts quit Team New Zealand four years ago to help establish Alinghi. He led the Swiss yacht to a 5-0 America's Cup series win over Team New Zealand last year to take the most prestigious trophy in sailing to Europe for the first time since the inaugural regatta in 1851.

In what has been dubbed the "Coutts Clause," Alinghi used its position as Cup holder to redraft the Protocol to prevent sailors switching teams. Previously rules prevented sailors from changing teams within 18 months of the next Cup.

Coutts said that was just one of the issues he had to address following his dismissal.

He said Alinghi syndicate head Ernesto Bertarelli, the Swiss biotech billionaire, locked him out of decision-making, breaking an agreement to give him a role in the management of the 2007 defense.

Coutts said he had spoken to Team New Zealand general manager Grant Dalton while in dispute with Alinghi but not since his dismissal. Although Dalton said Coutts' termination by the Swiss team was "completely irrelevant" to Team New Zealand.

Despite that, Coutts reiterated he'd be willing to rejoin the New Zealand syndicate, which he helped win the America's Cup in 1995 and 2000.

"They probably, technically, are unable to approach me at this point, but sure, I would be looking at all sorts of options and I don't see any reason why I wouldn't look at Team New Zealand," he said.

Coutts would face more than legal obstacles if he decided to return to Team New Zealand. His move from the team just months after its successful 2000 Cup defense caused deep bitterness within the syndicate and around New Zealand. He was accused of making available to Alinghi his intimate knowledge of Team New Zealand's yacht designs and of playing a part in the defection of several of its leading sailors.

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