WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) - A bitter dispute has erupted between America’s Cup event organizers and the Challenger of Record Luna Rossa over the Italian team’s insistence that racing in the challenger series final should resume immediately even though Auckland remains under limited lockdown because of a community outbreak of COVID-19.
America’s Cup Events Ltd. criticized Luna Rossa in a statement to media released Thursday only minutes before Luna Rossa held a news conference at which it sought to explain its desire to re-start racing.
Luna Rossa was eager to race even on Thursday and certainly on Friday if arrangements could be put in place in time. The organizing committee has reluctantly agreed racing should start again by the weekend and opposes racing Friday.
Race director Iain Murray of Australia finds himself in an embarrassing position, caught between the warring factions whose dispute stems from their disparate personal interests.
ACE, which is partly controlled by America’s Cup defender Team New Zealand, runs the public side of the regatta. It has put in place the infrastructure for the event, funded by national and local taxpayers, and oversees public interaction with the event.
While Auckland moved to a reduced alert level at midnight Wednesday, public gatherings are still restricted to 100 people meaning the large crowds which have followed racing from the Cup Village can no longer do so. Large crowds have also watched racing from vantage points overlooking the race courses.
ACE has indicated its reluctance to see racing take place while spectators, who have helped fund the regatta, are limited in their ability to watch it.
Luna Rossa, as the Challenger of Record, governs the Prada Cup challenger series and therefore has the power to decide when racing takes place. Italian team also holds a 4-0 lead over Britain’s Team UK in the first-to-seven-win Prada Cup final.
For that reason, it has had to answer claims it has a conflict of interest in both participating in the races and deciding when they should occur. Team UK so far has sided with ACE in showing reluctance to race while the current alert level remains.
“Whilst Ineos Team UK has not been consulted, we fully respect and will abide by the decision of ACE and will be ready to race as requested,” Team UK said.
“We believe this potential outcome would be a shame for the racing fans in Auckland when the city has done such a wonderful job of staging the regatta. The race village will be closed and courses B & C will not be accessible to limit gatherings of over 100 people.”
In its blistering press statement Thursday, ACE accused Luna Rossa of showing inflexibility in its refusal to allow a change in the race schedule while alert level restrictions are in place. Luna Rossa insists the schedule, which requires the Prada Cup final to conclude by Feb. 24, has been agreed and should be respected.
ACE chairwoman Tina Symmans accused Luna Rossa of failing to demonstrate “honor and respect for this country and delay the Prada Cup until we have a greater chance of everyone being able to enjoy and benefit from being back into (Alert) Level l.
“Clearly they have forgotten the words of their leader Patricio Bertelli at the opening press conference who spoke about how privileged everyone is to be in Auckland without significant COVID restrictions and that therefore everyone has a commitment and responsibility to deliver great sportsmanship and the Prada Cup to be a major sporting event.
“This plea has fallen on deaf ears and it’s clear that their focus is solely on Luna Rossa taking the Prada Cup rather than the greater good of the country (which has) worked so hard in order to be in a position to stage this event.”
Challenger of Record spokesman Francesco Longanesi Cattani had just read the ACE statement when Thursday’s news conference began and was clearly angry.
He “disagreed totally” with the comments Symmans had made “firstly because in my view anything that has to do with sporting fairness relates to respect for the regulations and that is what we are doing.
“Secondly, we want to respect the government provisions regarding the COVID situation and the protocols which have agreed with ACE and which allow racing to go on under level 2.
“Thirdly, the comment that COR is just pushing for Luna Rossa, I disagree because the opportunity to race gives (Team UK) more chances to win races and to win the competition on the water.”
Longanesi Cattani said changing the race schedule with the challenger final in progress was like changing “the height of the goal posts if you have a small goalkeeper.”
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