By James Toney
They say every America’s Cup challenger needs a star skipper, crack crew, brilliant boat and a phalanx of red-hot lawyers.
In the 170-year history of sport’s oldest international trophy, legal challenges and bad-tempered court room battles feature strongly.
And now Sir Ben Ainslie finds his dream of winning the ‘Auld Mug’ in jeopardy as Italian rivals Luna Rossa threaten to use the letter of the law to book their place to face Team New Zealand in the 36th America’s Cup match next month.
Luna Rossa lead the ongoing best-of-13 race Prada Cup final 4-0 but new Covid restrictions in Auckland are leading to a legal showdown between organisers and the Italians, with the Brits helpless bystanders on the quayside.
Race officials want to push the whole programme back by a week, a move supported by Ainslie’s Team Ineos UK.
But Luna Rossa insist that if racing isn’t completed by February 24, they will declare themselves the winners under the terms of their contract - a nautical version of #StopTheCount.
It’s a high seas Mexican stand-off that threatens to decide the fate of Ainslie’s £110m campaign in court.
“We’ve been informed by America’s Cup Events that they are discussing with the authorities different options, including the postponement of the racing to the 26th of February,” said a statement issued by the Italian team.
"This is in total breach of the regulations, which set the 24th of February as the end of the Prada Cup, without any possible extension.
“Since teams are authorised to sail and practise under Covid-19 level 3 alert, it is hard to understand why racing 'behind closed doors' could not be allowed applying the same protocols.”
Organisers want racing to resume when restrictions allow crowds to return, a position Ainslie’s team support, though after their stuttering start to the Prada Cup final there is no doubt additional time off the water to improve Britannia is in their interest.
"The result of the Prada Cup final should be won and decided on the water in the agreed format of first to win seven races,” said a Team UK statement.
“Ineos Team UK fully respect the government's decision to curtail racing until it is safe to do so and would support a delay in the competition if that is required.
“The solution put forward by the organisers is sensible in ensuring both the safety of all in New Zealand, and the integrity of the sporting competition.
“Ineos Team UK will continue with our preparations and be ready to race when it is safe to do so.”