x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Are RAK's race hopes sunk?

A 19th-century deed was the key to a New York judge's decision to disqualify Ras al Khaimah's attempt to host the America's Cup - but the emirate's hopes may not be scuppered just yet.

A 19th-century deed was the key to a New York judge's decision to disqualify Ras al Khaimah's attempt to host the America's Cup - but the emirate's hopes may not be scuppered just yet. The legal issues were complex and the war of words surrounding them increasingly bitter. And on Tuesday, in a quiet New York courtroom, judgment was passed. But, more than 6,500 miles away in Ras al Khaimah, the outcome caused a tidal wave of disappointment.

The New York state supreme court ruling held that RAK was not a viable venue for the 33rd America's Cup yacht race, to be held in February. Judge Shirley Kornreich based her decision on the "Deed of Gift", the competition's rules which were drawn up in the 19th century and which state that the race cannot be held in the Northern Hemisphere between November 1 and May 1. Judge Kornreich decided that the race must be in the Southern Hemisphere or in Valencia, where the Swiss syndicate Alinghi won the last America's Cup, in 2007.

And holding the race in RAK after next May is not an option at present either, as a separate court ruling in May this year held that Alinghi must defend the title within 10 months, making February 2010 the latest date possible. The American challengers BMW Oracle took the legal action citing safety issues, prompted by RAK's proximity to Iran, as well as a violation of the rules, after the Swiss team announced that RAK was their venue of choice.

Because the RAK meeting would be smaller than previous events, with just two competitors, it would take place over a single weekend, unlike those in Valencia and Auckland, which lasted for months. But even that would be a boon to the emirate, residents said. "It is very disappointing that RAK will not have the opportunity to promote itself to an international audience through the America's Cup," said Hassan Ali, 42, an Emirati businessman. "But the facilities built for the event will be a long-term investment and benefit the community.

"In the last few years there has been an increase both in tourism and local amenities, and this demand will continue." What is certain is that at the moment RAK finds itself caught in the middle of the wrangle, with significant investment at risk. Local officials are said to have poured more than US$120 million (Dh440m) into projects to prepare the emirate for the competition, which was scheduled to be staged at Al Hamra Village between February 8 and 12.

Erwin Biser, 45, a building materials supplier from Latvia who lives in Al Hamra, said the decision looked like bad news for local companies and individuals. "Businesses were expecting a big boost and it will be difficult for them now," he said. "There were people hoping to make a lot of money by renting out their properties for the weekend. But it would have been a real struggle to accommodate all the tourists the America's Cup attracts.

"Nevertheless, people here hope there is a way it can still happen." Despite the court's ruling, the backbiting has not abated. Tom Ehman, a spokesman for San Francisco's Golden Gate Yacht Club, which will crew the BMW Oracle vessel, said the ruling overcame an attempt by Alinghi to "bulldoze" through the rules. "Alinghi have shown reckless disregard for the Deed of Gift," Mr Ehman said. "They wanted a venue that suited their boat; somewhere with light air and flat water and they looked on a map and found Ras al Khaimah.

"We hope the event will be held in Valencia." Brad Butterworth, the Alinghi skipper, said the row should be settled on the high seas rather than in the high court. "BMW Oracle should clean up their unsportsmanlike behaviour with a dose of saltwater and sunshine and challenge for the Cup on the water," he said from the team's base at Al Hamra. "Otherwise, they should stand aside and let other teams compete."

However, it is possible RAK's hope to hold sailing's most prestigious event may not be completely scuppered just yet. Alinghi may appeal against the court ruling. "It is still very much open-ended," said Paco Latorre, an Alinghi spokesman and the communications director for America's Cup Management, which organises the event. "We are waiting to receive the court's written decision so that we can analyse it in detail, evaluate it and then decide what our next step will be.

"I expect it will take a week or so to decide our next move." Ernesto Bertarelli, the head of the Alinghi syndicate, said: "I haven't decided yet [what to do]. I'm waiting for a transcript of the [judgment] to better understand what happened." Judge Kornreich is due to hand down the written version of her decision within the week. "Both of the large teams are like warring factions and are playing a very complicated chess game," said Marcus Hutchinson, a member of the British America's Cup representatives, Team Origin, which has taken part in the last five America's Cups.

For RAK, though, it could be game over already. chamilton@thenational.ae tbrooks@thenational.ae * With additional reporting by William Johnson