SAN DIEGO (AP) — If America’s Cup challengers are to get on the same tack as defending champion Oracle Team USA heading into the next regatta, they’ll do so without Emirates Team New Zealand — at least for the time being.
America’s Cup boss Russell Coutts told The Associated Press on Sunday that he told the Kiwis not to come to a meeting in London on Tuesday at which competitors will try to hash out differences following a week of bruising publicity.
Coutts is CEO of Oracle Team USA and head of the America’s Cup Event Authority.
He said the event authority is working with the teams “to further define an event based on the published protocol.” Coutts said that after he heard from another team the Kiwis didn’t want to want to proceed on that basis, “I rang them up and said, `It’s best that you not come.’ We have four other challenging teams and the defender that want to work together to have a great event this time and in the future.”
Scheduled to attend the meeting are Britain’s Ben Ainslie Racing, Sweden’s Artemis Racing, Italy’s Luna Rossa Challenge and Team France.
Those four syndicates issued a statement Friday expressing support for the America’s Cup following the withdrawal of an Australian syndicate that was serving as Challenger of Record. Team New Zealand was not included in the statement.
The withdrawal of Hamilton Island Yacht Club on July 18 was the first public sign of dissatisfaction among challengers regarding the cost, rules and location of the 2017 regatta. Hamilton Island negotiated the protocol with Coutts.
“It’s quite obvious the whole reason we’re having a meeting is we don’t agree on everything, especially everything that we as defender are proposing,” Coutts said by phone during a layover in Los Angeles on his trip from his native New Zealand to London. “Hopefully they’ll listen to our rationale and debate it in a constructive way.”
Emirates Team New Zealand boss Grant Dalton said in an email to the AP that it was “not worth getting into this from our side. It will all play out in due course.”
Coutts and Dalton sparred verbally before the America’s Cup last year. After Team New Zealand took an 8-1 lead against Oracle Team USA on San Francisco Bay, the American syndicate won eight straight races in one of the biggest comebacks in sports to retain the Auld Mug.
Coutts sailed undefeated through three straight America’s Cup matches from 1995-2003. The first two were with Team New Zealand before he jumped ship to Alinghi of Switzerland and skippered it to victory over the Kiwis.
New Zealand is still expected to enter by the Aug. 8 deadline.
Coutts said he doesn’t think the meeting will be contentious.
He called it “a major positive step. I’m not suggesting we’ll all agree on everything, just that we want to work positively and intelligently to make a future for the America’s Cup. That in itself is a massive step forward for the America’s Cup, rather than the approach of conflict all the time where we’re firing bullets through the media at each other.”
Competitors are unhappy with certain rules in the protocol for the next event and disagree with Coutts’ decision to pull the regatta from San Francisco. Coutts has narrowed the venue competition to San Diego and Bermuda, with a decision expected by fall.
The challengers met in Los Angeles six days before Hamilton Island dropped out. According to minutes of that meeting obtained by the AP, it was a “universal concern” that Bermuda “is not a great venue,” and “all challengers feel that San Francisco is the right location for the finals and match.”
It’s unlikely the challengers will change Coutts’ mind on the venue.
Coutts said among the items to be discussed will be commercial aspects and television.
Luna Rossa is expected to become the new Challenger of Record, which represents all foreign syndicates in dealing with the defending champion.
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