Further upheaval in America’s Cup format could benefit Britain but scupper the Kiwis

British government have handed out £7.5m

More changes to the format of the America’s Cup have been announced which could leave both the Italian and New Zealand challenges in a precarious state and reduce the field of those lining up against the American holders, Oracle, to three.

Plans published for a new 62-foot foiling catamaran have apparently been scrapped with a “45 to 50-foot” replacement, believed to be 48 feet, introduced in its place despite all the work which has been done so far. Detail should be released on 15 April after being delayed since 15 February.

The “majority” of those voting on the re-write of the rules has also indicated, as has been known all along, that they do not want to see split qualification and knockout regattas staged in both Auckland and the chosen cup venue, Bermuda, in 2017. That “majority” is not just of the five challengers, whose role it is to find a single rival to the holder. It includes the Oracle defender, which represents the Golden Gate Yacht Club but which is controlled by the team backed by Larry Ellison, who has made his fortune through the San Francisco-based software company, and its chief executive, Russell Coutts.

The Italian Luna Rossa team, backed by luxury goods house Prada and its chief executive Patrizio Bertelli, has already says it is opposed to the changes. Bertelli is no stranger to brinkmanship, but whether he will withdraw has yet to be seen.

If proposals to stage a seeding and elimination regatta in Auckland have been dropped then the whole future of Team New Zealand is thrown into doubt. TNZ runs out of cash at the end of this month and support from the New Zealand government was dependant on being given the Auckland regatta. The team is, in any case, recovering from the turmoil of its messy separation from its skipper Dean Barker, the nation has been lukewarm during the cricket world cup, and is now turning its attention to the rugby world cup later this year.

Enjoying government support at home is the British challenge headed by Ben Ainslie. The government has given £7.5m under the banner of job creation. A new base is being completed in Portsmouth, which has been promised a further £1.4m by the city, mainly in kind. A regatta being staged there for America’s Cup challengers in July has attracted interest for over 80,000 spectator tickets. Sir Ben has spoken strongly in favour of the format changes, citing cost saving as the main reason, and has criticised the Kiwis for being against the changes.

The Swedish team, Artemis, with another British Olympic gold medallist Iain Percy at the helm, has spoken in favour of the revised format for 2017.

The Italians are due to host the first of the America’s Cup World Series regattas in June in their base town of Cagliari, Sardinia, and they need to confirm their intention to continue as a matter of urgency as teams prepare to ship their boats to the Mediterranean.

The French team, led by Franck Cammas, has welcomed the reduction in costs as it struggles to find any major sponsorship support, a German group has also been supportive, but, as the organising America’s Cup Event Authority continues to hint at further late entries, there has been no word of the mooted Japanese challenge. Ellison, who has set far more stringent financial controls of the Oracle team involvement, is thought to be keen on both Japanese involvement and New Zealand’s continued participation, having been the sole challenger in San Francisco in 2013 and at the centre of a turnaround from leading 8-1 to losing 9-8 to Oracle.

A weakened Team New Zealand would be a mixed blessing.        

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