America’s Cup sailor Dirk de Ridder has been suspended from sanctioned events for five years by sailing’s international governing body, two people with knowledge of the decision said Tuesday.
The people spoke with The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because the suspension is being appealed.
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Unless a review board or the Court of Arbitration for Sport overturns the suspension, it effectively ends de Ridder’s sailing career. Not only is the 41-year-old de Ridder banned from the 2017 America’s Cup, but he’s unable to accept a $500,000 contract to sail in the Volvo Ocean Race, which begins later this year.
Word of the suspension came less than a week after two New Zealand attorneys criticized the international jury that punished members of America’s Cup champion Oracle Team USA, including de Ridder, after investigating the illegal modification of boats used in warmup regattas.
De Ridder said via email from his home in the Netherlands that he couldn’t comment on his case. He was banished from the 2013 America’s Cup and Oracle Team USA was docked two points by the international jury four days before the opening races of the regatta in September on San Francisco Bay. Oracle twice trailed Emirates Team New Zealand by seven points before staging one of the greatest comebacks in sports by winning the final eight races to retain the Auld Mug.
Jerome Pels, secretary general of the International Sailing Federation (ISAF), said via email that he couldn’t comment on either de Ridder’s case or on the report that was issued last week on behalf of Yachting New Zealand, in which two independent attorneys criticized the America’s Cup International Jury for "significant" procedural shortcomings and raised numerous concerns about evidence and the jury’s reasoning.
In that report, which was based on transcripts of the jury’s investigation last summer, the attorneys said two Kiwis on Oracle Team USA — grinder Matt Mitchell and shore crew member Andrew Walker — shouldn’t face further discipline by Yachting New Zealand. The international jury had barred Mitchell from the first four races of the America’s Cup match and expelled Walker.
Likewise, de Ridder had been cleared of further punishment by his national governing body before the ISAF Disciplinary Commission issued the five-year suspension.
Russell Coutts, CEO of Oracle Team USA, declined comment on de Ridder’s case.
However, Coutts said on his Facebook page last week that "The ISAF jury appeared to be on a crusade to ‘save the America’s Cup’ and I believe they may have allowed that belief to cloud their judgment."
Paul Henderson, a former ISAF president and former International Olympic Committee member, told the AP by phone from his Toronto home on Tuesday that he’d never heard of such a harsh penalty, and that the case raises serious questions of whether de Ridder and others received due process.
"If you’re Ben Johnson and you won a gold medal and then got caught doping and were only banned for two years, and A-Rod is only out for a year, and then there’s somebody that it’s questionable whether he had anything to do with it, I don’t understand," Henderson said.
Henderson said the New Zealand attorneys wrote "an excellent report. You read it and say, ‘Oooh. I’m not sure due process was done."
Henderson said de Ridder’s case needs to be heard by the CAS.
On Aug. 27, after the America’s Cup International Jury had begun its hearing, the ISAF Disciplinary Commission approved rules of procedure that, among other things, allowed hearsay evidence.
Henderson said another problem is that the jury "has become a very incestuous group." Some of the members of the America’s Cup International Jury are included in pools used to form review boards and disciplinary commissions. "It’s a lot of conflict," Henderson said.
Pels said in an email that no one would sit on a panel if they were involved in an original decision.
Besides raising questions about the jury’s procedures, the two New Zealand attorneys wrote that they were "troubled" that the jury didn’t include an allegation of gross misconduct against Oracle’s Simeon Tienpont, who, according to the report, signed an interview record sheet stating that 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.
Tienpont sailed in the America’s Cup.
Coincidentally, Ainslie is Pels’ brother-in-law. In 2012, ISAF declined to further punish Ainslie after he grappled with a TV cameraman during the 2011 world championships and was disqualified from two races. That allowed Ainslie to sail in the Olympics, where he won his fourth straight gold medal and fifth games medal overall.