Former Oracle grinder claims gross misconduct by five members of international jury who ruled against him
Fresh shots have been fired in the America’s Cup cheating case that refuses to go away.
America’s Cup: Banned Cup Kiwi lodges protest
Kiwi sailor Matt Mitchell, a former grinder for Oracle Team USA, has filed complaints of gross misconduct against all five members of the America’s Cup International Jury (ACIJ), including New Zealand’s Graham McKenzie, with world sailing’s governing body, ISAF.
His action follows a recently laid complaint against his former teammate Simeon Tienpont, who is now with Italian team Luna Rossa.
Mitchell claims the jury members were “selectively negligent” and he was “unwittingly used as a pawn in Oracle Team USA’s quest to defend the America’s Cup against Team New Zealand”.
Mitchell’s complaint is the latest development in a case that continues to rumble on some 16 months after Oracle overcame unprecedented penalties to stage one of the biggest comebacks in sport.
Docked two points before racing had even got under way in the 34th America’s Cup match, Oracle won eight straight races to rebound from an 8-1 deficit and retain the oldest trophy in international sport.
Mitchell took no part in the contest after the international jury found him guilty of gross misconduct following a hearing into the illegal modification of the AC45 catamarans that Oracle sailed in warm-up regattas. He was banned for four races in the America’s Cup match and subsequently never won his place back on the boat.
Following the America’s Cup, the matter was referred to Yachting New Zealand, which ruled no further action should be taken against Mitchell. The Yachting New Zealand arbitration panel raised a number of questions with regard to the conduct and actions of the international jury while investigating the case.
In their findings, Yachting New Zealand wrote they were “troubled” the jury didn’t include an allegation of gross misconduct against Tienpont who, according to the report, signed an interview record sheet stating he helped Mitchell modify a 45-foot catamaran that was skippered by British sailing star Ben Ainslie, who was a key member of Oracle’s sailing team.
Mitchell also alleges the jury members had in their possession a document they failed to disclose that “fuels the implication of collusion”.
“I have at all times told the truth during this episode and placed my reliance in the ISAF and ACIJ process to establish the facts. As competitors we are faced with no alternative but to trust in the administrators of our sport to adjudicate without bias, in this regard the ACIJ failed completely,” Mitchell said.
McKenzie, the only New Zealander on the jury, has been singled out in Mitchell’s complaint. Mitchell alleges McKenzie faces a further allegation of witness tampering by acting in an intimidating or threatening manner. McKenzie did not return calls from the Herald.
This month, Paul Henderson, a former ISAF president and former member of the International Olympic Committee, also filed complaints of gross misconduct against the five members of the jury in relation to the handling of the case. Henderson believes McKenzie should have recused himself from the jury due to a conflict of interest “either real or perceived”.
McKenzie is a member of the Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron, which backed Team New Zealand.
As part of his “indefatigable quest to bring the real perpetrators to account” Mitchell is also suing his former employer for the $80,000 he has spent on legal fees fighting the cheating accusations plus damages.