Doubts emerged last night over the America's Cup yacht races taking place off the shores of Ras al Khaimah (RAK) as planned in February following claims by the challenging BMW Oracle team that they had been snubbed by the RAK Tourism organising committee. An invitation was sent by the Commodore of Golden Gate Yacht Club (GGYC), backers to the Oracle syndicate of BMW Oracle Racing, to Dr Khater Massaad, RAK's Minister of Tourism, to discuss the venue.
The Societe Nautique de Geneve (SNG), the holders of the oldest and one of the most prestigious trophies in sport through their Swiss boat Alinghi, have already set up a base in RAK. But Dr Massaad, a special advisor to Sheikh Saud bin Saqr al Qasimi, abandoned plans to meet prominent members of the Oracle team in California, USA, later this week. Marcus Young, Commodore of GGYC said: "Dr Massaad accepted the invitation, sent us his flight details and requested a chauffeur to the meeting. You will understand our surprise to read an email from Dr Massaad informing us that he now will not meet with us unless GGYC agree to race in RAK.
"It is the first time we have heard of a Minister of Tourism who said 'commit to coming to my country and then I will come and tell you why you should'. "We would have thought that if SNG and RAK were serious about addressing our reservations about RAK Dr Massaad's coming to California to meet us was not just desirable but imperative." Dr Massaad responded last night by saying he was willing to meet the challengers. He said: "Before GGYC/BMW Oracle presented their lawsuit contesting Ras al Khaimah as the host to the 33rd America's Cup I had made myself available and there had been discussions about meeting their senior management, either in Ras al Khaimah or in the US. The situation is now different as they have expressed their opposition to race in our waters. I am still available to meet with the American team if they are really interested in coming to sail in Ras al Khaimah. We welcome them with open arms." Disagreement between the two camps has been incessant since the challenge was first announced and has led to a series of bitter court actions brought by Oracle, the syndicate funded by American software mogul Larry Ellison. The latest action, the seventh, has surrounded the choice byAlinghi of RAK as the venue for the best-of-three-race series due to be staged from Al Hamra Village from February 8-12. Alinghi spokesman Paco Latorre was dismissive of the latest episode in the war of words. He said: "There is nothing new in this latest letter from GGYC. They repeat the same old baseless principles. Ras al Khaimah and the UAE are perfectly legitimate hosts." The next key date towards determining whether the 33rd staging of a competition, which was founded in 1851, is October 27 when a New York judge will rule on Oracle's motion to oppose RAK. email@example.com