Dana Johannsen is the NZ Herald's chief sports reporter

Yachting: Cup's first false start

It was the news America's Cup organisers didn't need.

Desperate for the attention to turn to the action on the water after weeks of escalating controversy, Cup organisers have been dealt a further blow after Luna Rossa skipper Max Sirena announced his team is unlikely to be on the start line for tomorrow's much-hyped opening race against Emirates Team New Zealand.

The Italian said his team won't take part in racing until the international jury hears their protest over alterations being made to the design rules - a stance that prompted Oracle chief executive Russell Coutts to label the Italians "a bunch of spoilt babies in Prada gear".

The jury is due to hear the protest on Tuesday, but Luna Rossa have put in an application to have the hearing moved forward.

"The main reason we are not racing is a principle concept, we do not accept what is being done," said Sirena.

The prospect of the opening day of racing turning into a one-boat contest is another embarrassment for Cup organisers. Race management had already been forced to call off yesterday's time trial due to strong winds - a situation that was supposed to be avoided in the "new" America's Cup - leaving fans scratching their heads as to when they will see any racing. Should Luna Rossa fail to show up tomorrow, fans will have to wait until next Monday before they see a proper race, with Artemis sidelined from the round robin stages as they endeavour to get a boat on the water.

In the meantime, Team New Zealand will be left to turn up to the scheduled races and complete the course to get the competition point.

"We're extremely disappointed by this," said America's Cup chief executive Stephen Barclay. "It is an affront to the fans who've been waiting three and half years for the first race."

Coutts later chimed in on the issue as well, accusing the Italians of making these threats so the jury to rule in their favour. But it could be argued regatta director Iain Murray's warnings the event could be called off altogether if the protests by the Kiwis and Italians are upheld are even more prejudicial to the proceedings.

In any case, Sirena yesterday quelled suggestion his team will boycott the event if the jury does not rule in their favour.

"I don't think that will happen, we've spent a lot of time and energy to be here," he said.

However, in a further twist, Artemis chief executive Paul Cayard has released a statement claiming his team will be forced to withdraw from the regatta if "ETNZ and LR get what they want".

The Swedish team's participation in the challenger series is by no means certain anyway, as they battle to get their second boat on the water after their first was destroyed in a training accident that killed strategist Andrew Simpson. Artemis skipper Iain Percy has confirmed the launch of the new boat is still at least a couple of weeks away, giving the team just two weeks to get race-ready for the Louis Vuitton semifinals.

Percy admitted with such limited preparation his team aren't going into the regatta with a "competitive mindset".

- Herald on Sunday

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