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Court rules out RAK as hosts for America's Cup

A New York appeal court upholds a lower court decision to disqualify Ras al Khaimah as host of the next America's Cup sailing competition.

A New York appeal court yesterday upheld a lower court decision to disqualify Ras al Khaimah as host of the next America's Cup sailing competition, virtually ensuring that the race will take place in Valencia, Spain, beginning on February 8. The 4-0 verdict, issued by the appellate division of the New York State Supreme Court, ends a three-month legal saga and lets stand a ruling that had disqualified RAK because the document that governs the America's Cup, the Deed of Gift, specifies that a February race must be held in the southern hemisphere.

Although Valencia is also in the northern hemisphere, the courts exempted it from the rule because it had been host to the last race, in 2007. Traditionally the holder of the cup has the right to select the venue for its defence, and Alinghi, the Swiss racing syndicate representing the Société Nautique de Genève (SNG), selected RAK because, it said, the emirate had perfect weather and wind conditions.

However, the challenger, BMW Oracle Racing, sailing for Golden Gate Yacht Club in San Francisco, filed a lawsuit to change the venue, citing concerns over RAK's security, given its proximity to Iran, and lack of infrastructure. On October 27, Justice Shirley Kornreich of the New York State Supreme Court held that, according to the Deed of Gift, RAK could not host a race during the northern hemisphere's winter.

But SNG argued in its appeal that a related decision in May 2008 by a different judge should be taken into account. That ruling, which focused the date of the race, also held that "the location of the match shall be in Valencia, Spain, or any other location selected by SNG". In its decision yesterday - late on Tuesday in New York - the appellate court addressed that ruling by saying: "Accordingly, the order should be read as carving out an exception to the Deed's hemisphere requirements in the case of Valencia, and the phrase 'or any other location selected by SNG' should be read as 'or any other Deed-compliant location selected by SNG'.

"RAK, which is in the northern hemisphere, is not a Deed-compliant location for a February race." So, with RAK disqualified and BMW Oracle having declined Alinghi's invitation to race in the southern hemisphere on the Australian Gold Coast, Valencia is the only workable site without a legal obstacle for a February race. "We knew that this verdict was possible, and the race will now definitely be staged in Valencia," said Paco Lattore, an Alinghi spokesman.

"We defended our choice of RAK, and this is the first time in over 150 years of the America's Cup that the right of the defender to select the venue has been removed." "The focus now," he added, "is on winning the cup in Valencia, and it promises to be one of the most exciting races in the cup's history as the boats are so fast and technologically advanced. "RAK have been very welcoming, and it remains a very good venue for the America's Cup. There is no reason why it couldn't host a race in the future."

Tom Ehman, a Golden Gate spokesman, said in a statement quoted by Reuters: "This is a big stride forward. "In place of doubt and delay, the sailing world wants certainty. It wants to see this contest to go ahead soon and be contested under fair rules." While acknowledging the success of the 2007 race, Alinghi was not in favour of Valencia in the winter because the syndicate feared unstable weather and unpredictable wind.

Ernesto Bertarelli, the president of Alinghi, has proposed a review of the cup regulations to ensure that future races are contested on the seas rather than in court. RAK is reported to have invested US$120m (Dh440m) in infrastructure in preparation for the race. The America's Cup organising committee in RAK could not be reached for comment yesterday. tbrooks@thenational.ae

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