GENOA // The unseemly legal wrangling between the two rival factions seeking glory in the 33rd staging of the America's Cup has worked to the advantage of Ras al Khaimah (RAK) and could put the sleepy emirate on the international sporting map along with Dubai and Abu Dhabi.
That is the view of the marketing chief of Alinghi, the Swiss yacht team who are due to defend the oldest trophy in world sport against American challengers BMW Oracle Racing off the shores of the Gulf in February. Paco Latorre is a Spaniard who revelled in Alinghi making a successful defence of the Cup in Valencia in 2007 and was eagerly looking forward to playing a significant role to bring about another triumph in the Mediterranean waters earlier this year.
The court battles, continuing into a sixth round this week, by the Oracle team has meant the prestigious sailing regatta has been put back to early next year when weather on the coast of Spain will be too unreliable. "That's why we are going to Ras al Khaimah," declared Latorre who is also head of the communications department of the 100-plus Alinghi team. "The delays have meant we needed to find an alternative venue and the best conditions we could find at that time of the year are off the coast of the UAE.
"We looked at Dubai and Abu Dhabi but Ras al Khaimah was the most responsive." In return a "venue fee", which in the case of Valencia two years ago amounted to 90m (Dh471m), has been waived. "We have not asked for any payment because of the short notice given to RAK," he explained. "That might not be the case if the racing returns there in the future." Short notice or not, the Alinghi defenders are confident that the venue will be shipshape in good time for the first race on February 8. "They have assured us that they will have everything in place to host the regatta and we are working towards getting ready for those three races," said Latorre.
"But this is a joint venture between RAK and ourselves. It has not been our intention to take over the place for a few months and there is going to be a tremendous legacy for the emirate after we have left. "Not everyone in the UAE realises the magnitude of the America's Cup at the moment. By the time we leave, hopefully with the Cup still in our possession, there will be a lot more people aware of how important this competition really is. We want the people in the UAE to be aware that we are bringing something huge for them to be a part of."
Asked whether he thought there might be a further postponement and a search for yet another alternative venue, Latorre reacted positively towards the plan to race Oracle in Gulf waters. "We are not unduly worried at this stage that there is a court-room threat to the event taking place but it would be better if all this arguing came to an end and we could get into a different kind of action on the high seas."
However, Latorre was confident that the court drama would not distract the preparations of the team and the amount of work that is needed to be carried out at the venue. "There are only two boats this time and only a maximum of three races - another consequence of the court hearings," he said. "We have all the guarantees we need from the authorities there. We think it is perfectly achievable what they are setting out to put in place for us. For the moment there is no major concern regarding the infrastructure."
If a shortage of accommodation becomes a potential deal-breaker, Latorre disclosed that provisional steps have been taken to bring in an ocean-going liner as a floating hotel, such as the Queen Mary which recently visited its sister ship, the Queen Elizabeth II in Dubai. "We are not saying we are going to do that at this stage but there is no reason why that can't happen if needed," he said. email@example.com