Contenders issue America's Cup warning

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The Independent Online

A warning that the America's Cup could be headed for years in the wilderness has been made by two of the top contenders in an event that can trace its history to Britain in 1851.

Rivals on the water this week in Slovenia's RC44 circuit, Russell Coutts, skipper of the Golden Gate Yacht Club's BMW Oracle challenge, and long-time Cup campaigner Paul Cayard both say that the way the Swiss defender, Alinghi, is controlling the rules for the next on-the-water clash scheduled for February could frighten off other potential challengers for years to come.

Alinghi would say that if they can win the head-to-head clash with BMW Oracle and put America's Cup 33 behind them then it will be full speed ahead.

An overnight barrage of new legal moves by the California-based Oracle is asking the New York Supreme Court to reconsider its interpretation of the way in which the event is to be run, also the appointment of officials, with the International Sailing Federation (ISAF) involved in that process, and the extent of their jurisdiction, and also the way the BMW-Oracle boat, USA, is to be scrutineered.

In case Justice Shirley Kornreich does not wish to revise her judgment, other papers are being lodged simultaneously with the Appellate Division.

Oracle is fearful that the way Alinghi is structuring the criteria will mean that it can never pass the measurement tests. Additionally overnight, Oracle published its certification document showing that the boat is just over 113 feet long, though that reduces to 90 feet or less when measuring the part in the water, and 89.5 feet wide, half a foot within the limit.

The problem would be if Alinghi demands that the boat must be exactly 90 feet by 90 feet to the millimetre and if, unusually, the 90 feet in length must include the rudders. There are further disputes over whether the challenge boat must be measured when fully loaded, sinking it further and so longer in the water, when Alinghi's defence catamaran would not be required to be measured the same way.

Further legal moves are imminent, one contesting Alinghi's choice of the little-known Arab emirate of Ras al-Khaimah as the venue for the races, where the Alinghi catamaran arrived today. A further claim is expected that Alinghi's representative club, the Societe Nautique de Geneve, has failed in its duty as a trustee of the Deed of Gift which governs the event and was first drawn up by members of the New York Yacht Club in 1857. “What's missing at the moment is that there is no trustee,” said Cayard.

Links between Ras al-Khaimah and Switzerland are strong. Its principle industries are a large cement factory and a large ceramics factory, the latter founded by Khater Massaad, who grew up in Lausanne and is the chief economic and political adviser to Sheik Saud al Saqr. Massaad has a degree in mathematics from the Institute of Technology in Lausanne, which has links with Alinghi and is building a campus in Ras al-Khaimah.

Massaad is also at the centre of the new Al. Hamra resort village which will host the two teams.

In agreeing a specific set of rules for the event, for which ISAF took a fee of €150,000, the world governing body of the sport appears also to have agreed that the jurors it appoints, even if there is a glaring example of injustice, will be powerless to intervene.

A list of questions, including whether there are any other agreements which have not been published, remain unanswered, nor is it clear if all power to negotiate the agreement was delegated to secretary general Jerome Pels and honorary treasurer Dave Kellett or whether it has full executive committee backing.

The organisation accepts that it may have been better to separate the financial elements of the agreement from the sports elements and immediately published the organisational elements to avoid the charge of making a secret deal.

ISAF also claims that neither the SNG nor Alinghi will be able further to change the racing rules without its permission, but the agreement seems already to have opened the stable door. Nor can its nominations for the jury be vetoed by either side unilaterally, though ISAF will accept an Alinghi-submitted panel from which to choose the measurers.

On the RC44 track, Coutts ended the first day of fleet racing in the lead from Dean Barker with Ray Davis third, all Team New Zealand alumni.

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