The America's cup challenger BMW Oracle Racing will ask a New York court to reject Ras al-Khaimah in the United Arab Emirates as the venue for the 33rd renewal of the cup and replace it with Valencia, Spain. They will cite "grave safety concerns" for their US-based crew because of the proximity to Iran.
The defending champion, Alinghi of Switzerland, picked the Persian Gulf port in August as the site for the best-of-three showdown between the bitter rivals for the oldest trophy in international sport. The racing is scheduled to start on 8 February.
BMW Oracle Racing, owned by the software tycoon Larry Ellison of Oracle, sent a team to inspect the proposed venue and said in a statement issued late on Thursday that it "fails on every key measure necessary for a successful America's Cup".
Ras al-Khaimah is "particularly unsuitable" because the proposed racing area is within 17 miles of islands occupied by Iran in a current territorial dispute with the United Arab Emirates, the Americans said.
"The choice of Ras al-Khaimah underscores Société Nautique de Genève's [SNG] abject failure in its responsibilities as trustee of the America's Cup," said the BMW Oracle Racing captain and chief executive, Russell Coutts. "It seems that the defender is prepared to go to any lengths to make this America's Cup a travesty."
BMW Oracle Racing claimed the Swiss cannot select a northern hemisphere port without mutual consent from them. They served Alinghi and its backing yacht club, SNG, with papers and were yesterday poised to place a motion with the Supreme Court of the State of New York.
Alinghi labelled another return to the courts as a further attempt by BMW Oracle to stall the competition. "BMW Oracle's latest lawsuit is further proof of their unsportsmanlike behaviour. We will only return to the legal process to show that it is sporting character and sailing strategy that wins races, not litigation," said the Alinghi captain, Brad Butterworth. "As trustee of the America's Cup, we are convinced that Ras al-Khaimah is the perfect and legitimate venue."
Alinghi noted that top sportsmen such as Tiger Woods and Roger Federer have regularly played tournaments in the UAE. Ras al-Khaimah is on the southern end of the Persian Gulf, near the Strait of Hormuz, which separates the Arabian Peninsula from Iran. Relations between the United States and Iran are tense.
A few days after Alinghi announced their choice, Ellison questioned the safety of the port, citing its proximity to Iran. "We're all concerned about the safety of our crew and our shore crew and everyone getting set up there," Ellison said during a public presentation of BMW Oracle Racing's crew and giant trimaran in San Diego.
Valencia hosted the America's Cup in 2007, when Alinghi defeated Team New Zealand 5-2 to retain the silver trophy.