Dana Johannsen is the NZ Herald's chief sports reporter

Yachting: Dud start angers Cup sponsors

'Upsetting' Luna Rossa no-show for opening race will not affect series funding, says Louis Vuitton Cup figurehead.

America's Cup organisers are facing the wrath of angry sponsors after the promised show-stopping opening day of competition became a Team New Zealand exhibition sail.

The Kiwi team were forced into the farcical situation of completing the course by themselves after Luna Rossa refused to take the startline for yesterday's opening race of the Louis Vuitton Cup.

The Italians say they will boycott racing until the international jury makes a ruling on their protest over regatta director Iain Murray's decision to alter the rudder design rules just a week out from the start of competition. Emirates Team New Zealand have also protested the move and will get the chance to argue their case before the jury today.

Bruno Trouble, the figurehead of the Louis Vuitton Cup, told the Herald he is "very upset" that the opening day of his event was overshadowed by Luna Rossa's no-show. They will continue to support the regatta financially, but at a reduced rate.

"We have a deal. We are committed to this event, we are not happy, but we are committed," he said.

Louis Vuitton have already drastically cut their sponsorship for the event.

Trouble said the deal with America's Cup organisers contained a ratchet clause based on the number of entries. Their original sponsorship offer was on the basis of eight boats taking part, with that figure dropping if they could not attract more than five entries.

"There were no provisions for anything less than five because we did not expect that would happen. It is worse than we thought," said Trouble.

America's Cup chief executive Stephen Barclay said the bickering and brinkmanship was hurting the sponsors.

"The sponsors are disappointed; like the rest of us they've worked three years to get to this point," said Barclay. "We all want racing to get under way, we had two great teams - famous America's Cup teams - slated to race one another and one of them decided to not to participate, and yet today they're out [practising] on the race course looking strong."

Sponsors have already had to scale back their hospitality plans after America's Cup officials were forced to revise the racing schedule as part of the list of safety recommendations put forward in the wake of the death of Artemis sailor Andrew Simpson.

With the number of round robins cut back from seven to five, and Artemis ruling themselves out of all of them, the best-case scenario is there will be four proper races between now and August 7 - that is provided the jury reach a decision before Sunday's second match-up between Team New Zealand and Luna Rossa.

Cup organisers attempted to broker an 11th-hour deal that would have seen the Italian team take their place on the start-line yesterday, but negotiations stalled, leaving Team New Zealand to open the Louis Vuitton Cup by themselves.

The Herald understands intense negotiations were held on Sunday night to try to resolve the debate over the new rudder regulations that threatens to derail the entire event, and ensure Luna Rossa would be on the start line. Sources close to the negotiations say the teams got "very close" to reaching an agreement ahead of the jury hearing, but Luna Rossa owner Patrizio Bertelli has been angered by comments made by Artemis boss Paul Cayard in recent days and refused to back down.

Luna Rossa skipper Max Sirena said he was unable to comment on the negotiations as the matter was now before the jury. "We are not allowed to talk about anything in particular about the jury case," he said.

The closed jury hearing has been set down for tomorrow, with all teams to be represented. A decision is expected to be released on Thursday.

Louis Vuitton Cup

Team New Zealand v Artemis*

Luna Rossa v Artemis*

Team New Zealand v Luna Rossa
*Artemis to default their round robin matches while they await the launch of their second boat.

- NZ Herald

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