Russell Coutts has made the startling declaration that the chosen Emirati venue of Ras Al Khaimah contravenes the basic rules of the competition drawn up over 150 years ago.
Team leader throws doubt over the legitimacy of UAE as host venue
Russell Coutts, leader of the BMW Oracle Racing America's Cup challenger syndicate, has made the startling declaration that the chosen Emirati venue of Ras Al Khaimah (RAK) contravenes the basic rules of the competition drawn up over 150 years ago. "Put simply," said Coutts, "the Cup cannot take place in the northern hemisphere during the winter months.
"That is stated in the Deed of Gift [the 19th century rule book compiled to adjudicate in the event of disagreements between defender and challenger]. "Equally simply, you can change any of the rules providing there is mutual consent. "It would have been preferable if Alinghi [the Swiss-backed cup holders] had come to talk to us before announcing their choice of venue." So technically, and legally, Coutts could pull the plug on the three-race series arranged for Gulf waters between February 8 and 12. He is keen to avoid such drastic action in a campaign which has already been badly delayed by court room disputes.
The highly-decorated yachtsman added that he and his teammates at the Californian-based camp of Oracle, are keen to overcome that considerable barrier to the 33rd staging of the world's oldest international sporting event going ahead as scheduled in February. An Oracle delegation visited RAK earlier this month to make a preliminary inspection of the facilities and infrastructure and were received warmly according to Coutts, who along with other key members of the syndicate, is in the process of evaluating reports taken back to their San Diego headquarters.
"We believe that RAK is outside the requirements [of an appropriate venue]," Coutts remarked. "But we are evaluating RAK with a view to getting the event on in February. "If there are ways that we can do that then that's what we will do. We want it to happen and the problem is not insurmountable." Coutts knows from his personal experience in racing RC 44s off the coast of Dubai, that "winter" is a misnomer in the UAE.
The likelihood of ideal weather conditions early next year was the main reason why Alinghi transferred their defence from the Mediterranean waters off Valencia which are considered to be too cold and unpredictable in February. "We are certainly hoping that it will all take place in February," Coutts maintained. "The America's Cup usually has a 10-month challenge period. It should have been in February 2008. Now it's 2010 because of the court delays. We are keen to get it on as soon as possible and we always have been."
He was non-committal, however, about taking his men to RAK. "As somebody who knows the UAE very well once told me, RAK is just finding its feet compared to the other emirates which have a well-developed tourism industry and business infrastructure," said Coutts who is due to take part in more races in Dubai in November. "The 33rd Cup could be the most spectacular so we have to hope that it has great sailing conditions and provides the type of competition fans will want to go to.
"It would be disappointing if the racing was conducted in four or five knots of wind because people will not get to see the amazing performance capabilities of these boats. If that happened it would be a huge opportunity missed for our sport."