Americas Cup in United Arab Emirates?

Americas Cup in United Arab Emirates?

America’s Cup Sailing in United Arab Emirates?

The BMW Oracle sailing team has cited “grave safety concerns” for its U.S.-based crew that would be sailing a massive trimaran named USA within miles of Iran asking a New York court to reject Ras al-Khaimah, United Arab Emirates, as the port for the 33rd America’s Cup. The BMW Oracle sailing team filed a motion with the Supreme Court of the State of New York asking that the Persian Gulf port be replaced with Valencia, Spain, as the site for the best-of-3 showdown against bitter rival and two-time defending champion Alinghi of Switzerland for the oldest trophy in international sports.

Ras al-Khaimah, or RAK, is on the southern end of the Persian Gulf, near the Strait of Hormuz, which separates the Arabian Peninsula from Iran.

BMW Oracle Racing is owned by software tycoon and sailor Larry Ellison of Oracle Corp. Ellison himself raised safety concerns a few days after Alinghi announced RAK as the venue in early August.

Racing is scheduled to begin on Feb. 8. Alinghi’s 90-foot catamaran, Alinghi 5, arrived in RAK earlier this week. BMW Oracle Racing’s 90-foot trimaran, which will be named USA in coming weeks, has been undergoing sea trials off San Diego since last fall.

BMW Oracle Racing sent a team to inspect the proposed venue and said in a statement issued late Thursday night that it “fails on every key measure necessary for a successful America’s Cup,” including infrastructure, security and wind.

Ras al-Khaimah is “particularly unsuitable” because the proposed racing area is within 17 miles of islands occupied by Iran in a territorial dispute with the United Arab Emirates, the Americans said.

In its court motion, BMW Oracle Racing said both it and Alinghi, backed by Societe Nautique de Geneve (SNG), still have bases in Valencia from the 2007 America’s Cup, when the Swiss beat Team New Zealand to retain the silver trophy.

“As a venue for the America’s Cup, Ras al-Khaimah … presents grave safety concerns for the team members of an American challenger, named “USA,” that flies an American flag on a 200-foot mast,” BMW Oracle Racing’s court filing says. “It also presents huge logistical concerns for GGYC (but not SNG). SNG has never explained why it selected Ras al-Khaimah over Valencia.”

In a statement, BMW Oracle Racing skipper and CEO Russell Coutts — who once steered Alinghi to America’s Cup victory — said the choice of RAK “underscores SNG’s abject failure in its responsibilities as Trustee of the America’s Cup. It seems that the Defender is prepared to go to any lengths to make this America’s Cup a travesty.”

Coutts has won the America’s Cup three times, including in 2003 when he led Alinghi to a 5-0 win over his native New Zealand. Coutts was later fired after a falling out with Alinghi boss Ernesto Bertarelli.

Alinghi countered by noting that international sport stars like Tiger Woods and Roger Federer have regularly played tournaments in the UAE, and that Coutts himself has sailed annually in the Emirates.

“It’s a joke that they’ve waited two full months before contesting the venue,” Alinghi spokesman Paco Latorre told The AP by phone from Geneva.

“We feel that Ellison is more and more afraid of losing again on the water after his previous failures and that’s why he and his team proceed with the legal strategy,” Latorre said. “Don’t forget, it is the seventh time they take us to court. We would have preferred to get this solved on the water, but BMW Oracle prefers to get it solved in court.”

BMW Oracle Racing said RAK is an improper venue because the 19th century Deed of Gift, which governs the America’s Cup, prohibits racing in the Northern Hemisphere between Nov. 1 and May 1.

Latorre, however, said a previous court order during the twisting, two-year court fight between the rivals stipulated that the venue would be Valencia or any other site picked by Alinghi.

BMW Oracle Racing is asking the New York court — which has jurisdiction in America’s Cup legal spats — to direct that the America’s Cup be sailed in Valencia, unless the teams mutually consent otherwise.

New York attorney and competitive sailor Cory E. Friedman said he thinks BMW Oracle Racing’s motion is well-founded both on grounds of the Deed of Gift and security.

Alinghi labeled the return to court as another attempt by the Americans to stall the competition. Alinghi skipper Brad Butterworth, who sailed with Coutts in three America’s Cup victories, said the Swiss are convinced that RAK “is the perfect and legitimate venue,” and that BMW Oracle Racing’s latest motion “is further proof of their unsportsmanlike behavior.”

The long, legal bickering aside, the racing could be the most spectacular in the 158-year history of the America’s Cup. Alinghi 5 and USA are the fastest, most powerful boats ever built for sailing’s marquee event. USA is nearly as long as an NBA court and would fill the diamond on a major league baseball field.

Read more about the America’s Cup sailing venue in RAK:

America’s Cup in UAE = Bad Publicity?

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