The America's Cup Challenger of Record has issued a stunning ultimatum to event organisers: proceed with racing as planned despite uncertainty around Auckland's immediate Covid-19 restrictions, or award the Prada Cup final - and the right to challenge Team New Zealand for the Auld Mug - to Luna Rossa.
In a press release issued today, America's Cup Event Limited (ACE) confirmed a disagreement with the COR existed over whether to delay the Prada Cup final series should Auckland remain under strict Covid-19 restrictions.
A decision is expected to be announced at 4.30pm by Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern over whether Auckland will remain at level 3. The Prada Cup final series was set to continue today but was delayed when Auckland and the rest of the country went into lockdown on Sunday.
According to the statement, ACE are looking at postponing the Prada Cup final series and the start date of the America's Cup if restrictions don't change.
"ACE has consulted with the America's Cup Minister Stuart Nash and senior [Auckland] council officials and one consideration has been to postpone the current schedule of racing and events in the best interests of the public and all stakeholders given the current Covid-19 environment," the statement said.
"The position of ACE is based on one of two options based on the Government's review of alert levels at 4.30 this afternoon:
- If the alert levels drop to level 1 in time, then racing will resume this weekend.
- If the alert level remains at 3 or 2, which obviously entails restrictions in gatherings and difficulties with events, racing and event activations would need to be rescheduled to recommence the Prada Cup Final on Friday 26 February. To respect the original timeframe scheduled between the Prada Cup Final and the America's Cup Match, Race 1 of the Match would subsequently begin a week later on Saturday, March 13, with the intention of racing still being completed by March 21."
According to the release, Challenger of Record Luna Rossa, who lead Ineos Team UK 4-0 in the first-to-seven finals series, are opposed to a delay.
"This morning the Challenger of Record (COR36) has made their position very clear in stating their desire to race from tomorrow despite Covid Alert level 3, to complete the Prada Cup final by the 24th February in accordance with the existing Prada Cup conditions," the statement said.
"They have also stated that if the racing program cannot be completed by Wednesday (24th) they intend to declare the leading point scorer the winner of the Prada Cup and challenger for the America's Cup match. Under the current points situation, that would be Luna Rossa team."
In their own statement a short while later, the COR confirmed that it had urged ACE to request an exemption to carry on the final "in compliance with the racing calendar and in order to meet the legitimate expectations of the competitors involved, of the international public and of the international television networks who have already programmed their broadcastings".
"Unfortunately this did not happen, notwithstanding a protocol and a procedure which were put in place ... in the event such circumstance would occur," the statement said.
"COR has been now informed by America's Cup Events, that they are discussing with the authorities different options ... this is in total breach of the regulations, which set
the 24th of February as the end of the Prada Cup, without any possible extension."
According to the statement, a level 3 alert management plan exists that could be "immediately activated".
This plan would see the America's Cup village closed and racing done without spectators - as has been the case for many international and local sporting events.
"Since teams are authorised to sail and practice under Covid-19 alert level 3, it is hard to understand why racing 'behind closed doors' could not be allowed applying the same protocols," the statement concluded.
Meanwhile, Ineos Team UK have come out in support of ACE's call for a delay to the remainder of the finals series.
"Ineos TEAM UK respect the decision communicated by ACE to delay the Prada Cup racing due to the current Covid-19 alert level in Auckland," Ineos said in a statement.
"The result of the Prada Cup final should be won and decided on the water in the agreed format of first to win seven races. Ineos Team UK fully respect the government's decision to curtail racing until it is safe to do so and would support a delay in the competition if that is required.
"The solution put forward by ACE is sensible in ensuring both the safety of all in New Zealand, and the integrity of the sporting competition."