Weekend return for Prada Cup racing

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America’s Cup organisers have announced the challenger final will resume on Saturday, weather permitting.

Fans at the America's Cup Village in Auckland

Photo: Studio Borlenghi

The challenger of record (COR), Luna Rossa, wanted racing in the best-of-13 series to get back underway on Friday.

But it appears the Italian syndicate have settled for a Saturday resumption.

Two races are scheduled, with a further two scheduled for Sunday.

Luna Rossa have won the first four races and are three more wins away from earning the right to challenge Team New Zealand for the America’s Cup.

It has been a year since race conditions for the Challenger Selection Series finals were signed off between all relevant parties – well before the full force of Covid-19 was felt by sports in New Zealand and around the world.

Now teams are living and racing in different times.

Event organisers wanted fans – Luna Rossa wanted to follow the rules – to the letter of the law.

The organisers, America’s Cup Events, said on Wednesday they would not be prepared to hold the racing until Auckland returned to alert level 1 – proposing a week’s delay to the race schedule.

On Thursday morning they back-pedalled and proposed racing in the best-of-13 series start again on Saturday.

Luna Rossa – who are 4-0 up over Team UK – did not want to wait.

The Italians had initially refused to budge and are adamant about sticking to the time period allocated to the finals series, which they said applied in all cases from not enough wind through to natural disasters and a pandemic.

Challenger of Record representative Francesco Longanesi Cattani believed the way forward was clear.

“The rules are there, you have accepted them, and the fairest thing you can do in sport is to play with the rules that are set and respect them.”

That position was labelled “inflexible” in statement from event organisers America’s Cup Event (ACE), who said the challenger of record wanted to continue racing “against the interests of the public and commercial benefits to the city and businesses.”

ACE thought they had met the visitors demands halfway – but Luna Rossa disagreed.

Longanesi Cattani reckoned they had given Team UK a helping hand by pushing for racing as soon as possible.

“The fact that they comment that COR is just pushing for Luna Rossa, I disagree because the opportunity of racing gives INEOS more chances to win races and to win on the water the competition.

“If we were delaying the racing the chances for INEOS to recover their current scoring would be minor.”

In a statement Team UK said they would be ready to race as requested over the weekend.

“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.

“Given that it is a possibility that Auckland may move to Level 1 by Monday, we feel that delaying the restart until Monday would enable full spectator participation, even if this means racing continues past 24 February.”

Race director Iain Murray was in favour of racing under alert level 2 as long as all the on-water safety measures were in place.

Team UK and Luna Rossa in the America's Cup Challenger Selection Series

Team UK and Luna Rossa
Photo: Studio Borlenghi

He called off any potential racing on Thursday because he could not get the patrol team together – and he might be in that position again.

“One of the requirements, from the beginning, has been to maintain a safe on-water operation and that relies heavily on more than 100 volunteers that have been trained to man the safety marshalling boats around the course,” Murray said.

“We had a meeting this morning to discuss that and obviously because these people are volunteers and some of them are in some restrictions there is a fair bit to work through there.”

Murray said restarting sailing on Saturday provided teams with five days and potentially seven races left.

Under alert level 2 the America’s Cup Village on Auckland’s waterfront will be shut and public screenings of the racing will not go ahead.

Race courses which offer the best viewing from land will not be used either, in an attempt to limit large gatherings of spectators at popular vantage points.

The government has weighed in on the racing without fans – a move Sports Minister Grant Robertson hoped was temporary.

“Obviously disappointing for people who wanted to go and watch the races, but I learned a long time ago that the politics of the America’s Cup is very very complicated indeed,” Robertson said.

“There are plenty more races to come in the regatta and I’m sure New Zealanders will get to enjoy them.”

The current rules stated two races a day – any move to three races to get the schedule completed in a shorter timeframe would need to be agreed to by the Challenger of Record and the defender – Team New Zealand.

Which means the disagreements could keep coming.

The eventual winner of the Challengers Selection Series finals will be back to take on Team New Zealand in the America’s Cup next month.

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