Sailing: Conner whips up OneWorld of trouble

With the sailing of the quarter-final repechage over in straight races and Prada and OneWorld restored to their formbook positions as semi-finalists alongside Alinghi and Oracle, it's back to the courtroom.

There the action will star Mr America's Cup himself, Dennis Conner, gunslinging it alongside the suave Italians from Prada. The pair are seeking to ensure that justice is redone for OneWorld, the team penalised a point at the start of the regatta and in the dock again for "stealing Team New Zealand design secrets" despite their own efforts to divert attention from their "minor transgressions"' by overhauling Team Dennis Conner in an overwhelming display on the water.

But while the issues now at hand lend an atmosphere of theatre to the Louis Vuitton Cup, they could have massive implications. OneWorld admitted some time ago that their designer, Laurie Davidson, had found himself in possession of his previous employer's design data after he had been lured to OneWorld from Team New Zealand. The one point that the team were docked at the round robin stage ultimately proved insignificant but OneWorld, at least, thought they had heard the last of it.

Not so. Ninety-two pages of alleged "new evidence" were lodged with the International Jury, who found there was a case to answer in a joint protest from Team Dennis Conner and Prada. The case has been handed to the Arbitration Panel, which will sit next weekend.

"I hope in many regards that they are cleared up satisfactorily and OneWorld go on to win the America's Cup. Then they can go home with a wonderful feeling that they've done a great job," said David Elwell of Dennis Conner's challenging club, the New York Yacht Club. "But as a club that's been involved with the America's Cup for 150 years, we felt these allegations had to be resolved."

OneWorld's Peter Gilmour is clearly upset at the prospect of further sanction. "They clearly have not respected the efforts that we went to last year, in putting the application in front of the Arbitration Panel and presenting a very detailed and thorough internal investigation, and I would just like to think inside me that it's not the sailors."

The ramifications could be enormous. If the protest is upheld OneWorld could be eliminated. And whether that means that Team Dennis Conner simply advance to the semi-final or other, more convoluted, solutions that could even involve looking further back are sought, the Louis Vuitton Cup community is waiting anxiously.

It is unlikely, but not entirely inconceivable, that Britain could find themselves back in this regatta yet.

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