x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

A war of words over race

Alinghi, who are due to defend the America's Cup off the coast of Ras al Khaimah in February, were accused of having a "poisoned protocol" by their sole challengers for yachting's most prestigious trophy.

Alinghi, who are due to defend the America's Cup off the coast of Ras al Khaimah in February, were accused of having a "poisoned protocol" by their sole challengers for yachting's most prestigious trophy. Russell Coutts, a former skipper of the Swiss yacht Alinghi but now the non-sailing chief executive of the San Diego-based challenging syndicate of BMW Oracle Racing, made the comment as the war of words between the rival camps intensified.

Coutts, considered the finest sailor in the history of the sport, was referring to the series of rule changes instigated by the Alinghi camp, amendments which have made the possibility of a successful challenge more difficult. "When Alinghi won the Cup [in 2003 with Coutts at the helm] they attempted to grab a completely unreasonable and unfair standpoint, taking away the rights of their challengers by changing the rules of the competition," said Coutts. "It is a poisoned protocol."

Larry Ellison, Oracle's American benefactor, has been fighting a series of legal battles against the holders, court hearings which are overshadowing the 33rd staging of the famous competition. Coutts, who is steeped in America's Cup history having won it for his native New Zealand, disclosed that the recently chosen venue of RAK does not meet the criteria laid down in the tournament's 19th century rule book.

"The cup cannot take place in the northern hemisphere during the winter months," said Coutts. "That rule, like all the others in the Deed of Gift [the America's Cup charter] can be changed by mutual consent. It would have been preferable if the Alinghi people had spoken to us about this beforehand. We don't want to stop the races taking place in February, though." @Email:wjohnson@thenational.ae