x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Coutts reiterates RAK concerns

Russell Coutts, the non-sailing skipper of the BMW Oracle Racing Syndicate, remains opposed to bringing his team to the UAE.

BMW Oracle Racing Syndicate skipper Russell Coutts does not want to sail in Ras Al Khaimah.
BMW Oracle Racing Syndicate skipper Russell Coutts does not want to sail in Ras Al Khaimah.

Russell Coutts, the non-sailing skipper of the BMW Oracle Racing Syndicate who are due to challenge Swiss holders Alinghi for the America's Cup off the coast of Ras Al Khaimah (RAK) in February, remains opposed to bringing his team to the UAE. With the Alinghi camp now firmly ensconced in their Al Hamra base beginning preparations for the best-of-three-race series, Coutts made a fresh appeal yesterday to stage the 33rd running of sport's oldest international competition in the Spanish port of Valencia where it was safely retained by Alinghi in 2007.

Coutts, whose team have a seventh legal action against Alinghi pending, said: "We asked the [New York] Court to restore Valencia as the venue for the 33rd Cup. "This is something that Alinghi and we do agree on. Both sides told Justice [Herman] Cahn in April that we thought Valencia was the best option." New Zealander Coutts is a man steeped in America's Cup traditions and is acknowledged as one of the most accomplished exponents of his sport in history. So when he climbs on to a soap box people tend to listen, even though those based in the UAE and those hoping to witness the outcome of such a prestigious event will not like what they hear.

"Valencia was a huge success," said Coutts. "Ernesto Bertarelli [owner and funder of Alinghi] said it himself many times. But he's walked away to a little known emirate and says an uncompleted resort development is appropriate for the America's Cup. We are not the only ones asking 'why?' Alinghi has failed to explain this choice properly." Mindful that a meeting between Oracle officials and RAK hosts regarding security issues is imminent, Coutts remarked: "Anyone following the news knows tensions are rising in the region because of Iran's nuclear ambitions.

"RAK is sandwiched between the hotspots of Iran and Somalia, a pass down which we have to ship our boats. Only Alinghi think it is of so little consequence for us to race our American yacht in one sport's biggest events that they didn't feel a need to speak to us about it. That's a shocking lack of responsibility. "If Alinghi don't think safety is a legitimate concern they should look at the travel advice that the Swiss government gives its own citizens. It says the situation 'can evolve quickly because of the complexity of the regional context'. For an American team, the question of safety and security is of even higher concern."

Coutts was unimpressed by his rival skipper Brad Butterworth pointing out that high-profile sporting figures like Tiger Woods and Roger Federer are frequent untroubled visitors to the UAE and that Coutts himself was a regular sailor off Dubai Marina. "Let's get the facts straight," Coutts said. "First, I don't compete every year in Dubai. Secondly, Dubai is not Ras Al Khaimah. Thirdly, Tiger Woods and Roger Federer are individuals competing in a competition with many other players.

"I think any fair-minded person will see that an American yacht, with USA on its 200ft high mast, sailed by a team with 100 people in the crew and a shore team in a competition between nations called the America's Cup is a very different proposition. "I emphasise, our objection is to RAK. By and large, the UAE has a terrific reputation for hosting sporting events and athletes. This is why I shall be happy to return with other sailors competing in next month's Sea Dubai RC44 Gold Cup."

@Email:wjohnson@thenational.ae