Paul Lewis on sport

Paul Lewis is the Herald on Sunday's Sport Editor

Paul Lewis: Auld Mug sinking in a storm of controversy

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It's doubtful that there has ever been a more ludicrous run-in to the America's Cup.

The regatta director has threatened to call the whole event off over safety issues.

The Italians have refused to turn up for tomorrow's opening race with Emirates Team NZ. They want their protest to the international jury, currently scheduled for Tuesday, to be held first.

Artemis - who don't even have a boat ready at this stage - say they will withdraw if the jury upholds the protests of Luna Rossa and ETNZ against changes which they say have nothing to do with safety but which happen to benefit holders Oracle.

If the jury finds against the protests, the Italians have threatened to withdraw.

If the Italians withdraw and Artemis don't make it to the start line anyway - a more than real possibility - the event could be becalmed until Team NZ take on Oracle in the Cup match.

Confused? Here's what most seasoned observers are expecting to take place in the next few days:

• Tomorrow, Luna Rossa will not turn up and will leave Team NZ to make a single-handed navigation of an uncontested racecourse. Ah, the excitement ...

• At 1pm on the same day, the San Francisco Giants take on the Dodgers at baseball at the AT&T stadium up the road. Wonder where the crowds will go?

• On Tuesday, the jury are expected to find in favour of the protests of ETNZ and Luna Rossa.

• In spite of regatta director Iain Murray's threats to then have the regatta called off by forcing the withdrawal of the Coast Guard permit on safety grounds, it seems almost certain it will go ahead. Scuttling the event benefits no one and could open a Pandora's box of legal and other complications. There are, and will be, urgent backroom negotiations.

It remains to be seen whether Artemis will carry through on their withdrawal threat. Up 'til now, there have been more worries about the Italians and their threat to pull out if the jury finds against them.

All of this drama, of course, is designed to influence the jury. But the latest conspiracy theory is that the Italians might pack up their tents anyway. It seems unlikely - but the theory goes that Prada boss and billionaire backer Patrizio Bertelli has got the serious hump with the whole thing. Luna Rossa and Bertelli have had mountainous media coverage at home and have solidly occupied the high ground. But the word from San Francisco is that the Italians are nowhere near ETNZ in terms of speed. Bertelli is one of the richest men in the world after the highly successful float of Prada and may think that it is better to go out in a blaze of principled glory than get a spanking from Team NZ, re-invigorating the challenge next time, especially if ETNZ win the Cup and it is restored as an event that actually works.

ETNZ boss Grant Dalton spoke to Luna Rossa skipper Max Sirena yesterday and asked if they would sail tomorrow and then later on in the week. The answers were 'No' and "At this stage ... ".

Logic also suggests that if Bertelli can afford to sink millions into this challenge and then withdraw, a better strategy would have been to invest more money this time so that the Italians could have a more competitive boat.

We'll know more about what happens tomorrow when the racing starts.

Oh, that's right ... no, we won't.

- Herald on Sunday

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