Just when you thought everyone was getting along just fine Down Under in New Zealand and everything was just peachy Kiwi keen comes word that either the challengers didn’t read the fine print in the America’s Cup Protocol Amendments, or Emirates Team New Zealand was trying to pull a fast one, or the Auckland harbormaster was trying to do the right thing in the wrong way.
What has become a huge controversy is that two of the five racecourses that were approved through Mutual Consent Provisions have been struck down by the America’s Cup Arbitration Panel in a 2-1 ruling. Anyone hoping to watch the action close to shore, à la ‘stadium sailing’, is out of luck right now. The two fan-friendly courses were the ones that got the boot.
The Arbitration Panel published its decision in response to the application (protest) filed by the Luna Rossa Pirelli Team, the Challenger of Record (CoR). Luna Rossa garnered support from the other two Challengers by challenging the exclusion from the Prada Cup Round Robins and Semifinals of Courses B and C. These were the preferred close-to-shore courses for the Christmas Race, the Prada Cup Final and, ultimately, the America’s Cup Presented by Prada, which begins on March 6, 2021.
The Arbitration Panel found that: “If any part of the course area of the Challenger Selection Series (CSS) and the America’s Cup Match (e.g. Courses B and/or C) are not accessible with no restriction at any time in accordance with Art. 3.4 of the Protocol, then that part of the course area will be used neither for the CSS nor the Match.”
The crux of the controversy was that the Challengers would not be able to compete on the courses that may be used on race days during the America’s Cup finals, potentially giving the Kiwis a ‘home court’ advantage.
“Quite frankly we are outraged by this decision. It has gone against everything we have been trying to achieve over the last three years, with no consideration to the effect this has on the public of New Zealand and the city of Auckland,” said CEO Grant Dalton. “ETNZ are now considering if there are any options that are available to remedy this unbelievable decision.”
The Italians responded by stating that: “The attacks by ETNZ are intended solely at discrediting the Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli team with populist pretexts that tend to mask the attempt to gain an unfair advantage over the Challengers, who, we repeat, unanimously supported us as CoR by each lodging their own independent submissions.”
“This decision has considerable and negative repercussions to the accessibility of the event for the public of Auckland and New Zealand, the safety of the event, and the reliability of the racing,” continued Dalton, “all of which are elements that have been fundamental to ETNZ since we won the America’s Cup in 2017.”
“The images with Auckland City as a backdrop during racing have always been a critical part of showcasing New Zealand to the world in an event with a significant global audience, and another reason for the original racecourse designs,” added Dalton.
“We are disappointed to acknowledge ETNZ’s press release,” stated the CoR in a press release. “We would therefore like to point out some of the key elements that explain why the Arbitration Panel made the decision to exclude racecourses B and C from the 36th America’s Cup.
“In early September, we discovered, without having been previously involved nor informed by the Defender, that the Round Robins and the Semi-Finals of the Challengers Selection Series — the Prada Cup — could not be sailed on Courses B and C, designated as preferred courses for the Final Match. A situation that the Defender (ETNZ) had kept hidden since the end of January/beginning of February.”
The Arbitration Panel also stated that this decision does not prevent the CoR and the Defender from making further approaches to the harbormaster and/or any other competent authority in order to attempt to change the current restrictions or look for a different solution by an agreement among all the competitors.
Ugh! Remember those ABCs, boys and girls, because this isn’t over by any stretch of the imagination — but then it wouldn’t be the America’s Cup if there weren’t some controversy spilling over somewhere.