Oracle boss Sir Russell Coutts bars former Kiwi team-mate from America's Cup meeting in London


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The Independent Online

While Sir Ben Ainslie leads his team into another round of talks in London on Tuesday the door has been closed firmly in the faces of his old friends from New Zealand.

Ainslie was a member of Emirates Team New Zealand as tune up helmsman for Dean Barker ahead of the 2003 defence in Auckland and has had a close relationship with members of the Kiwi Olympic sailing squad over the years.

He will join representatives of the new likely replacement lead challenger of record, the Prada-backed Italians from Luna Rossa. Also at the table will be his friend and fellow British Olympic gold medallist Iain Percy, boss of the Swedish Artemis Challenge, still grieving the death last year of Percy's fellow medallist, Andrew 'Bart' Simpson.

The fourth team invited by the man in the chair, Sir Russell Coutts, boss of the cup holder defence team Oracle, is from France. This is led Franck Gammas, who has spent the last month on the sailing Tour de France, Michel Desjoyeaux, who has spent the last month coaching the Spanish Volvo Race team, and Olivier de Kersauson, who lives in Tahiti and makes occasional visits to France.

The financial viability of the French group is unknown, though a senior commentator said recently he expected support from the Accor hotel chain and Airbus. The Italians and the Swedes are well-funded and the noises coming out Ainslie's soon to be Portsmouth-based and government supported BAR team have all been positive.

Missing will be Kevin Shoebridge, who represented TNZ at a challenger meeting in Los Angeles callet by the then lead challenger, Australia's Hamilton Island Yacht which a few days later announced its intention to withdraw from the next cup in 2017.
TNZ spoke to Russell Coutts last week and at that time expected to be at the London meeting but was then told no. "We were disinvited," said a senior observer. None of the others wanted to comment on the Kiwi exclusion. A spokesman for the America's Cup Event Authority, also run by Coutts, said: "I can't help you."

The agenda for the London meeting is being kept confidential but is not thought to include persistent offers from the San Francisco Bay city of Alameda to host the teams, all of which have said they would be willing to contribute in any way possible to keep the event in SFO.

ACEA says only San Diego and Bermuda are still in the running. But the teams have only just over a week to lodge formal challenges and the first tranche of USD1m. entry fee. The deadline is midnight PST in SFO on 8 August. The venue and even some format decisions will be weeks after that.

TNZ has been in the cup since 1986/87 where it reached the challenger finals, was then the sole challenger in the big boat versus catamaran farce in San Diego, made the challenger final again in 1992 and then took the cup off the Americans in 1995 with Coutts skipper of a team led by the late Sir Peter Blake.

Coutts defended successfully in Auckland in 2000 but then skippered the Alinghi team from Switzerland which took the cup away in 2003. TNZ, now run by Grant Dalton, was again the final challenger in Valencia in 2007, had to sit out 2010 as Coutts led the Oracle challenge which took the cup away from the Swiss, but were back as the final challenger to Oracle last year. TNZ is intent on challenging again for 2017 ahead of the 8 August deadline.