America's Cup falls victim to Ellison court challenge

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The Independent Online

The America's Cup hit the rocks yesterday as the next event, scheduled for May to July 2009 in Valencia, was indefinitely postponed.

Organisers of the ¿2bn (£1.4bn) extravaganza, which claims to be the longest running competition in world sport, dating back to 1851, blamed a court petition brought in New York on behalf of computer software billionaire Larry Ellison complaining about the actions of America's Cup Management (ACM), which is wholly owned by the holder and defender, Swiss pharmaceuticals billionaire Ernesto Bertarelli.

Michel Hodara, chief executive of ACM, said the case left the organisers with no choice but to delay the event "as many indicators demonstrate a lack of viability to stage the event in 2009". But he said that ACM would continue to accept entries until the deadline of 15 December.

Even if the judge, Justice Herman Cahn, decided against the Ellison petition, Hodara said he would meet the defender and existing challengers "to adapt the rules and regulations to put in place a new framework for an event to take place at a later stage in Valencia".

But, if the decision were to go against Ellison there is every likelihood of an appeal and if it goes in the Californian's favour it could also force Bertarelli's Alinghi to defend against Ellison's BMW Oracle – which merely expressed regret that its counter-proposals on a compromise protocol had been rejected – in 10 months' time.

The court case aside, ACM has been struggling, despite support from both regional and national government, to raise finance to stage the event, which would be in a new class of 90-foot yachts, in 2009.

Other challenging syndicates have also been hit by the uncertainty, not least Britain's Origin team headed by Sir Keith Mills, who helped secure the 2012 Olympic Games for London. Sailing director Mike Sanderson, alongside Jim Farmer of Team New Zealand, has made every effort to mediate, but to no avail.