America's Cup future at stake as summit agreed

BMW Oracle 90 sailing off Anacortes

California dreaming could turn to America's Cup reality this weekend as the warring factions of Swiss holder Ernesto Bertarelli's Alinghi and would-be challenger BMW Oracle's Larry Ellison meet face to face after circling each other for over 12 months.

Bertarelli is in the golden state on business, Ellison is addressing 40,000 delegates to an Oracle jamboree, but they are expected to sit down and try to thrash out a resolution to a dispute which is imprisoned in the New York legal system.

At stake is the immediate future of what claims to be sport's oldest trophy - though the Doggett's Coat and Badge rowing race was first staged on the Thames in 1715 - and the careers of hundreds of top rank sailors, builders and designers, not least in Britain's stalled Origin challenge.

Unusually, this will not be a rubber stamp meeting of number ones. The officials further down the line have not drawn up a blueprint which is already largely agreed. 'There has been no contact between the teams and there is nothing new on the table from them,' said Alinghi skipper Brad Butterworth.

It is quite possible that the billionaire bosses, whose mutual passion is for yacht racing have, for separate reasons, decided that it may be better to cut the Gordian knot of public intransigence. Oracle's challenging vehicle, the Golden Gate Yacht Club, repeated this week its offer to abandon the legal route forcing its way into the Challenger of Record slot.

At the moment, the legal cards are in Bertarelli's hand. The latest court decision on the viability of his chosen Challenger of Record, with whom the rules for the next Cup were drawn up, went his way.

But some of the 3-2 majority thinking by the Appellate Division of the New York Supreme Court was baffling and Ellison immediately appealed. The case is not expected to be heard before early January and could drag on.

Speaking from his team's base in Valencia today, Russell Coutts, Ellison's CEO and skipper, Bertarelli's discarded skipper, said that Oracle simply wanted a return to the multi-challenger rules that were in place prior to the last, 32nd, Cup in Valencia last year. 'We don't want the defender to have total control over the challenger race series and practice races,' he said. 'The fundamental rules were there and worked pretty well. We have still had no explanation of why they had to be changed.'

He has been pre-occupied with building a 90-foot trimaran at a cost of up to $100m and has no status even as an official challenger, does not know when any race may take place, and knows that Alinghi could choose a track that is entirely unsuitable for the style of boat he has built.

Bertarelli is fed up of being denigrated around the world and largely blamed for the whole situation. He feels he has been ready to compromise with the other potential challengers and has many good commercial as well as sporting reasons for putting the show back on the road.

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