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BMW Oracle questions Alinghi's validity

America’s Cup challenger BMW Oracle sent a Christmas card to Swiss defender Alinghi today. It was not in accordance of the season of goodwill.

It asked for assurances that all of the components of the monster Alinghi catamaran had been designed and built in Switzerland, alleged that its giant sails had been made in the United States, and gave notice that it intended to question the yacht’s validity with an international jury recently nominated by the sport’s world governing body, the International Sailing Federation.

The 19th century rules of the event require national purity of a competing yacht, but not of its sailors, and the BMW Oracle team, backed by the San Francisco-based computer software billionaire Larry Ellison, says it has been scrupulous in meeting the rules.

The renewed threat, one in a long list of legal moves made by the Americans, comes at a time when the American yacht, a 90-foot trimaran, is due to go through the Panama Canal on its way from its training base in San Diego to the event venue, Valencia, Spain.

The Alinghi yacht is due to leave its base in the United Arab Emirate of Ras al Khaimah bound for the Suez Canal tomorrow. It will go to the base from which Alinghi successfully defended the Cup against New Zealand in 2007.

The American yacht will go to a base in the commercial harbour, not its base in the America’s Cup marina, as that will make much easier the management of the raising and lowering of a wing mast with a height which exceeds the total wingspan of a Boeing jumbo jet.

It also comes at a time when talks are unresolved over changing the date and scope of the series of races. At the moment it is a best of three starting on 8 February. The mayor of the host city, Rita Barbera, wants to start on 12 February and to make it a best of seven. In the light of the current lack of goodwill, Alinghi is working towards the format for which BMW Oracle has fought in the New York Supreme Court.

Alinghi also knows that a further, and potentially much more vicious, attack under a claim of a breach of fiduciary duty continues to bubble away behind the scenes. If Oracle loses the race series on the water, the pursuit of that claim could sink an event which was spawned in the UK in 1851 back into the legal mire for an untold timespan to come.

With seven weeks until the start, what claims to inspire a worldwide audience, even worldwide respect, is running out of runway. Organising serious television coverage lacks credibility when it still does not know when it will start, when it will finish, what the format is, and whether the weather will allow the successful scheduling of any programmes.

Mayor Barbera’s hope that it could be delayed until 12 February and be stretched over two weekends ignores that that is the opening day of the winter Olympics.

The British challenger, Team Origin, hopes that it can find a UK venue for one of the Louis Vuitton Trophy series regattas, perhaps in 2010, if not in 2011. It will also contest the Audi MedCup series in a new TP52, designed by Juan Kouyoumdjian and being built in New Zealand.

Its entry on to the America’s Cup stage, with triple Olympic gold medallist Ben Ainslie as skipper and double gold medallist Iain Percy as tactician, may have to wait a little longer. The 2012 Olympic Games loom larger every day.