Dana Johannsen

Dana Johannsen is the NZ Herald’s chief sports reporter

America's Cup: Venue delay could sink Team NZ

The rules for the 35th America's Cup allow Oracle to build two AC62s, 10 feet shorter than those raced in San Francisco. Picture / Brett Phibbs
The rules for the 35th America's Cup allow Oracle to build two AC62s, 10 feet shorter than those raced in San Francisco. Picture / Brett Phibbs

Team New Zealand concede the failure of America's Cup organisers to settle on a venue for the next match may make it impossible to secure the funding needed to compete.

Nearly eight months on from Oracle Team USA's spectacular defence, the US syndicate yesterday finally released the protocol for the next event. While the 78-page document laid out the rules and structure of the 35th Cup match and lead-up regattas, the question of venue remains unanswered as authorities negotiate with San Francisco, San Diego, Bermuda and Chicago.

Organisers have given themselves until November to make a final decision on venue, well after the August 8 deadline for the challengers to sign up and pay the US$2 million entry fee (in two US$1 million instalments).

Team NZ chief executive Grant Dalton said the delay in naming a venue would virtually rule out commercially funded teams, with sponsors unwilling to commit to funding until a host city was confirmed.

"I don't know how you reconcile those two things. Without a venue you can't raise real money so that makes it really difficult for commercial teams," Dalton told Newstalk ZB from Monaco yesterday before getting on a flight home.

"The sponsors won't make a final decision. Until you have a venue and it has relevance for them, you can't finish a deal."

The new protocol, which outlines a three-year racing programme from 2015-17, contains several major changes from the rules that governed last year's event, but Team NZ were reluctant to delve too deeply into questions over format until they have had a chance to digest all the information and consider the implications. Dalton is expected back in the country overnight and will offer further comment in the coming days.

The most significant departure from previous events is the format. Organisers have stuck with the world series circuit introduced in the lead-up to the 2013 event, but this time points from the regattas, sailed in 45-foot catamarans, will be used to seed the America's Cup qualifiers, a double-round robin event. The winner of the qualifiers -- whether Oracle or a challenger -- will get a bonus point in the America's Cup match.

The top four challengers will race in the America's Cup playoffs - the semifinals and finals - with the winner facing Oracle in the match. However, the challenger that earns the bonus point for the America's Cup match could be eliminated before reaching the ultimate round.

As had been signalled before yesterday's protocol announcement, the elimination rounds will be sailed in 62-foot, wing-sailed foiling catamarans. In what is certain to spark the most debate, the rules allow Oracle to build two AC62s, and conduct two-boat testing, while the challengers will be limited to one. Along with giving Oracle a massive advantage in their development programme, it also gives the defenders insurance in the event of a catastrophic failure.

Iain Murray, who heads Team Australia, the challenger of record that helped set the rules, admitted this was a major point of contention for the challengers. "This was quite a big argument," he told AP.

"I'm sure there are some things people probably would prefer would be different, and there are a lot of things that are going to be quite new."

After criticism over the antipodean make-up of Oracle's crew in the last event, the defenders have introduced nationality rules that require two of the eight crew on the 62-footers and one of the five crew on the 45-footers be from the home country of a team's backing yacht club.

- NZ Herald

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