A judge in New York ruled yesterday that Ras al Khaimah cannot host the America's Cup race in February, citing a provision in the 19th-century document that governs the sailing contest. The rules state the competition cannot be held in the Northern Hemisphere between November and May. New York State Supreme Court Justice Shirley Werner Kornreich said that meant the emirate was not eligible to host the race scheduled for February 8-12.
The suit had been filed by Larry Ellison's BMW-Oracle team, which has been involved in a two-year court battle over the race's venue with the backers of the current cup holder, Alinghi, which chose RAK. The challengers had cited the UAE's proximity to Iran as a concern. "This is a disappointing result, as we were certain that Justice Cahn's May 2008 decision allowed the defender to choose Valencia or 'any other location'," said a statement from Lucien Masmejan, legal counsel for Société Nautique de Genève, the yacht club sailing for Alinghi.
"Ras al Khaimah has put enormous time and effort into this 33rd America's Cup project. We thank them and feel sorry for this unexpected result out of the New York court." Representatives for Oracle could not be reached for comment late last night. The Deed of Gift, drafted in 1887, governs everything from the timing and location of the race to the design of the crafts. The case, Golden Gate Yacht Club v. Société Nautique de Genève, can be appealed, and the judge urged Alinghi to do so.
RAK has invested more than Dh440 million (US$120m) in infrastructure for the race. The Alinghi team is well established on the southern side of a man-made island built for the race. Their 100-strong team has access to four large tents, a prefabricated building, a boat shed, a sail loft, a rig building, a hospitality area and an office block. BMW Oracle would have identical facilities on the northern side of the island if they were in the UAE. Work on their camp stopped when they submitted the court action opposing the choice of the venue.
Société Nautique de Genève has defended the choice of RAK as a venue for the competition. After RAK was described by the BMW Oracle team as being "no more of a legitimate venue than the Colorado River", the group fired back. "Your efforts to denigrate RAK and the UAE are truly disappointing," it said in a correspondence to the other club. "RAK offers superlative sailing conditions for a February race as well as a suitable infrastructure.
"The UAE is a budding sailing destination with a history of hosting high-profile international sporting events. "The selection of RAK [as the host venue] is consistent with SNG's desire to expand international interest in the America's Cup." Mr Ellison, the billionaire software mogul who funds the Oracle team, is reputed to have put aside US$100m (Dh367m) to pursue the legal fight. Oracle earlier asked the US State Department to get involved and assess security in the emirate.
A letter by Edward Royce, a US congressman from California, to the State Department co-ordinator on counter-terrorism claimed that RAK was an "illegitimate and unsafe" venue for the America's Cup. @Email:email@example.com * With agencies