x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

Alinghi accepts a Valencia race

After BMW Oracle refused to race in Australia, the Swiss holders invited the America's Cup challengers to sail in Spain.

The sailing team Alinghi have invited their challengers to compete in Valencia, Spain.
The sailing team Alinghi have invited their challengers to compete in Valencia, Spain.

The America's Cup sailing race took a step farther away from Ras al Khaimah last night as Alinghi, the Cup holders, officially invited the challengers to compete in Valencia, Spain, the only venue with no legal obstructions.

The move came after the Swiss team failed to persuade BMW Oracle to accept an alternative Southern Hemisphere venue, although the offer stands until Friday. "After the failure of discussions to find a settlement, we now accept the venue that has been previously accepted by Oracle and the court," said Paco Lattore, an Alinghi spokesman. "Our priority is to hold the regatta." Alinghi still lists RAK as its preferred venue, however, and there is a slim chance that the race could yet be staged in the northern emirate if the team's appeal against the disqualification of RAK is successful. A decision in that appeal is due in mid-December.

Golden Gate Yacht Club in San Francisco, which BMW Oracle represents, welcomed Valencia as a venue, and called for the appeal in favour of RAK to be dropped. "We're very pleased to see that Société Nautique de Genève/Alinghi have finally agreed with us that Valencia in February is the correct venue to hold the 33rd America's Cup," said Tom Ehman, a spokesman for the team. "Presumably SNG will now drop their appeal of the court's decision that Ras al Khaimah is an illegal venue."

With the deadline for the race fast approaching and a need to confirm a venue to prepare for the race, Valencia may turn out to be the only option for a February race. Having previously opposed Valencia as a venue for a February race due to winter weather, unstable wind conditions and concerns over safety, Alinghi confirmed its reversal in a letter to Justice Shirley Kornreich in New York yesterday.

"We still believe that Valencia is a less suitable venue than RAK for a February race, as it is very cold and the weather is unpredictable," Mr Lattore said. "The race could come down to the circumstances of weather for the day, and therefore it may not emphasise the quality of the boats and the skill of the crew. Nevertheless, it is a feasible venue and therefore we should get the race done." Racing in either Prosperpine Beach or Townsville on Australia's Gold Coast was proposed last week. If BMW Oracle does not accept this offer by the end of the week, Valencia will be the default venue, pending judgment on the RAK appeal, according to Alinghi.

Valencia, the successful venue for the 2008 race, was authorised as a permissible venue by the New York Supreme Court. In a statement, the Alinghi skipper, Brad Butterworth, expressed his disappointment in moving to Valencia. "We went into the talks in good faith, ready to make concessions in order to guarantee the return of the Cup to the water for a February duel between two state-of-the-art boats," he said. "But BMW Oracle's priority was to delay the race because they are not ready. Now they have to live with their choice of date. I think I speak for the community when I say we want the cup sorted out as soon as possible on the water."

Valencia staged the first ever European hosted America's Cup in 2008 in a regatta that was widely heralded as one of the most successful in the event's long history, attracting 6.4 million visitors and generating a budget surplus of ?60 million (Dh330m). Ernesto Bertarelli, owner of Alinghi, said the venue required predictable wind conditions to guarantee a fair race and showcase the boats, which will be the most technologically advanced ever.

His counterpart, Larry Ellison, was critical of Alinghi's choice of RAK, citing concerns over security and a lack of infrastructure. Traditionally it has been the right of the holder to select the venue for the next race. tbrooks@thenational.ae