America's Cup competitors have forced through another retrospective rule change, granting teams the ability to size up one another on the water, before official racing starts in May.

The protocol amendment, which was posted on the official noticeboard earlier this week, allows teams to race in an organised fashion at the Cup venue in Bermuda during nominated windows over the next two months.

The first window opened today, and Oracle Team USA and close allies Ben Ainslie Racing wasted little time in taking advantage of the rule change engineered by their own leaders. The two teams lined up against one another on Bermuda's Great Sound earlier today.

The original protocol stated competitors could only sail their America's Cup Class (ACC) yachts in a co-ordinated manner with another team during periods specified by the commercial director.

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The rules stipulated the dates must be published no later than one year prior to the first scheduled race. However, America's Cup organisers dropped the ball and neglected to publish any dates last year.

Emirates Team New Zealand gleefully pointed out the oversight in a press release late last year.

"The effect of all of this for the fans is positive," the release state. "The unknown performance between teams will only add to the intrigue of how each team compares to each other on the first reach of each match up together."

The failure to publish the dates proved only a small hurdle for Oracle Team USA and the Bermuda-based competitors, however, with the rule change forced through by majority decision.

The protocol amendment was signed by all competitors, with the exception of Emirates Team New Zealand.


The specific rule change, in itself, is not especially troubling. Clearly, the original intent of the rule was to allow formal practice racing to take place.

The issue facing the America's Cup Events Authority now, however, is one of credibility of the competition. If Oracle and their allies are able to band together to force through self-serving rule changes two months out from the start of the competition, what is to stop them doing so two weeks out? Or two days out?

Team NZ, upset at having the qualifying regatta hosting rights stripped off them by Cup bosses through legally dubious means, have persistently kept outside the tight circle of their rivals, who have rewritten the rules book to allow changes by majority consent.

Discomfort over the close working relationship between Oracle and the four other challengers intensified earlier this year, when the five syndicates signed an agreement setting out the framework for the next two editions of the Cup, regardless of the victor in Bermuda.

The agreement raised concerns in the Kiwi camp that the teams will continue to work together to preserve their framework agreement.

Team NZ would not discuss the latest rule change, citing strict rules that prevent them from criticising the event. Syndicate head Grant Dalton has previously expressed his fears over the cosy arrangement between Oracle and the other challengers.

"We are very much the lone wolf," Dalton told the New York Times last month.

"The danger of being a lone wolf, of course, is that there's a lot of people, not just Oracle, that don't want us to win this time."