Dana Johannsen on sport

Dana Johannsen is a Herald sport writer

Dana Johannsen: Axing regattas lets teams, fans focus on America's Cup

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Racing action during the America's Cup World Series. Photo / Alex Robertson
Racing action during the America's Cup World Series. Photo / Alex Robertson

In a competition that has a long and sordid history of alienating fans, 2013 has started out on a promising note for the America's Cup.

In a rare episode of common sense, America's Cup officials have cancelled two contentious World Series regattas that were to be held in New York in May.

The AC45 events have become an unwelcome distraction for competitors gearing up for the main event in July, to be sailed in high-powered AC72 catamarans.

Team New Zealand had already baulked at the idea of attending the regattas, with syndicate head Grant Dalton signalling his intentions to send a youth team to compete under the ETNZ banner instead.

"The AC45s are not the main event any more, so it's a bit of a pain trying to juggle the two boats," Dalton told the Herald late last year.

"There's two [ACWS events] towards the end of May, which is absolutely a distraction and although under the protocol we can't sail our 72 while the event is on, there's little chance that Dean [Barker] and co will do that regatta ...

we will likely send a youth team up there."

Coming from a man who has had plenty of skirmishes with the ACEA, Cup organisers could have written off Dalton's complaints as just another case of the Kiwi only being happy if he has something to complain about.

But they instead took a rather curious route for America's Cup officialdom - actually listening to the competitors.

Stephen Barclay, chief executive of the ACEA, said the decision to pull the pin on the ACWS events was made after discussions with the three challengers, and Cup defenders Oracle.

"They make a strong point," said Barclay, "It's only one month before the Cup starts, the last thing we want to do is compromise the summer of sailing in San Francisco."

There are some who have claimed the ACEA's decision was guided more by Oracle's wishes than those of the rest of the challengers.

In light of the five-day sail ban imposed on Oracle as punishment for being found guilty of getting too close to Luna Rossa in a recent spying mission in Auckland, the two regattas would have had a major impact on the defender's AC72 programme.

The team have been shore-bound since mid-October after their new USA-17 pitch-poled in rough waters on San Francisco Bay, causing catastrophic damage to their wingsail.

Oracle are expected to launch their second AC72 in April, but with the final ACWS regatta scheduled in Naples from April 16-21, and the penalty imposed by the international jury preventing the US team from sailing from April 26-30, much of the month would be a write-off for them. They would then have faced the disruption of further no-sail days in May while they competed in the New York regattas.

Regardless of who benefits most from the move, abandoning the ACWS sideshow early was the right decision.

The world series has served its purpose. It's allowed the teams to get used to the technology and adjust to the multihull environment, while also enticing a whole new generation of fans. But having two separate programmes running and teams switching between the two boats has become confusing for casual fans of the America's Cup. It's time to focus on the main event.

- NZ Herald

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