Luna Rossa skipper Max Sirena says allegations of gamesmanship and 'dirty tricks' levelled against his team are way off the mark.
He's referring to the situation that has left Ineos Team UK on a 'yellow card' heading into the Prada Cup final, one slip away from losing a race due to disqualification.
Sirena is tired of being painted as the villain, coming on the back of the delay card controversy before the semifinal against American Magic.
Early in the round robin series Luna Rossa made a successful technical protest about the outhaul system used on the main sail of Britannia.
The measurement committee found it was non-compliant, albeit not performance enhancing. The system was outlawed, the British were fined $5000 and received 'one strike'.
After the round robin series Ineos Team UK skipper Sir Ben Ainslie pushed for the slate to be wiped clean for all teams, arguing the punishment doesn't fit the crime.
"To be DSQ'd for something that is non-performance enhancing, and we race at this level, I don't think that's how the game should be played," said Ainslie.
But that hasn't happened, as any change to the protocol needs to be agreed by both the challenger of record and the defender.
Last week Ainslie described the situation as "classic America's Cup gamesmanship" and British scribes have accused Luna Rossa of "dirty tricks" and acting against the spirit of the competition.
Sirena disagrees – strongly.
"First of all, you have to tell me why it is a dirty trick to protest someone which is not rule compliant," Sirena told the Herald. "Where is the dirty trick in that?
"What is wrong, if you see one boat which is illegal – what is the tricky thing?
My son, who is sailing [Optimists], if he sees an Opti which is outside the rules, he will tell the judge. It is normal sport."
Instead, Sirena suggests the spotlight should be turned on the British.
"It is the opposite," he said. "People complaining because one team is protesting you because you are doing something illegal … [they are] playing tricky games.
"This is the reason why I feel bad for our sport. My son has asked me exactly the same question; 'Dad, why am I reading on the newspaper you guys are the bad guys because you protest someone that is not rule compliant'?"
Sirena also has no doubt that Ineos Team UK would have followed a similar path, had they spotted an issue with Luna Rossa.
"They will do the same, don't worry," said Sirena. "The reason they didn't protest against us was because they didn't find anything, but I am 100 per cent sure if they find something which is illegal on our boat, they would protest us. It's part of the game."
On Thursday Ainslie played down the issue – "It's bluster, It's America's Cup, it's sport" – and was keen to focus on the impending racing, which he described as one of the biggest challenges of his career.
So was Sirena, who is confident Luna Rossa have ironed out the crew work glitches that cost them last month, and improved the afterguard communications.
"We put ourselves in difficult situations and didn't react well enough with them," said Sirena. "We just didn't execute that well [and] we have worked really hard to make sure there is no longer this kind of mistake."
Sirena admitted there is a weight of expectation on the Italian team, in the Prada-sponsored contest.
"For sure there is an extra pressure and extra motivation, sailing as the challenger of record and with the same name on the boat," said Sirena. "It's important, extra motivation to do well."
He admitted they would have to be "perfect" to beat the British, noting the talents of Ainslie, and said the human factor would be vital.
"It's a normal race - you need to start well, sail well, apply the basic rules of match racing," said Sirena. "We are talking about technology and development but at the end it is a yacht race and you normally lose the race because you make a human mistake."
Heading into the Cup racing?
• Give yourself plenty of time and think about catching a ferry, train or bus to watch the Cup.
• Make sure your AT HOP card is in your pocket. It's the best way to ride.
• Don't forget to scan QR codes with the NZ COVID Tracer app when on public transport and entering the America's Cup Village.
• For more ways to enjoy race day, visit at.govt.nz/americascup.