Court reduces America's Cup to head-to-head

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The Independent Online

The America's Cup, the premier event in sailing and, first contested in 1851, the oldest trophy in sport, is to be contested in a one-on-one, three-race shoot-out. All other challengers including Britain have been cut out and, instead, two billionaire-backed teams will field monster, 90-foot multihulls costing £3m.

A northern hemisphere venue will be chosen by the Swiss holder and defender, Alinghi, probably in Europe, definitely not in the United States. It could be as early as July 4, 6, and 8, though 1, 3, and 5 October were discussed. The problem is building the boats in time but the American syndicate Oracle, headed by San Francisco software mogul Larry Ellison was confident it could meet the July deadline and Swiss hopes for a delay until July 2009 look forlorn.

Alinghi boss Ernesto Bertarelli said he was disappointed but would not appeal the decision by New York Supreme Court judge Herman Cahn. "Let's settle this on the water," he said.

After Alinghi successfully defended in Valencia last year, Ellison objected to the blueprint for the next cup, originally scheduled to be staged in Valencia between May and July next year. His lawyers also said that the choice of a specially formed Spanish club to sign off the rules was invalid and his home town Golden Gate Yacht Club should be recognised as the official challenger. Judge Cahn agreed to all Ellison's submissions and yesterday denied Alinghi's request to reopen the case.

Ellison signed as both skipper and team boss the man whom Bertarelli had first poached from Team New Zealand when he won the cup and then sidelined during the defence, Kiwi Olympic gold medallist Russell Coutts.

It was Coutts who aggressively led the legal attack on his former boss but the court problems do not stop there. The current boss of Team New Zealand, Grant Dalton, has launched two further legal attacks against Alinghi asking for $200m in compensation because the 2009 event was postponed.