Mon, Feb 09, 2009 - Page 19 News List

War of words continues at Pacific Series regatta

AP , AUCKLAND, NEW ZEALAND

Light winds delayed racing at the Pacific Series sailing regatta yesterday, while there was controversy onshore over America’s Cup-holder Alinghi’s decision to forfeit Saturday’s race against Team New Zealand.

After a start delayed by a failing breeze, Damiani Italia Challenge beat Luna Rossa by 1 minute, 40 seconds in an all-Italian race yesterday to take its first win in Gold Fleet racing among the top six teams in the regatta.

Later, and after longer delays, Switzerland’s Alinghi beat its arch-rival Oracle Racing of the US by 26 seconds, and Britain’s TeamOrigin beat Team New Zealand by 6 seconds.

Most attention at the regatta yesterday was on land because of an intensifying dispute over Alinghi’s decision not to race on Saturday in their first scheduled meeting with Team New Zealand since the 2007 America’s Cup finals.

Alinghi beat Team New Zealand 5-2 in a best-of-seven series two years ago to retain the America’s Cup, which it claimed from the New Zealanders off Auckland in 2003.

Their rematch on Saturday was much anticipated, but Alinghi forfeited in an apparent tactical move to avoid penalties that might jeopardize its chances of progressing to the series final.

Teams racing against Team New Zealand in the second round take no points from wins because Team New Zealand, as hosts, progress directly to the final. It is still possible, however, for teams to be docked points for rules infringements in those matches, explaining Alinghi’s decision not to compete.

Reports suggested the decision was related to the regatta being organized by Team New Zealand and Oracle, the US syndicate with which Alinghi is locked in an acrimonious legal battle over rules for the next Cup defense.

Oracle won a preliminary ruling in its favor, but Alinghi has challenged the decision.

There was further controversy yesterday when Alinghi said Team New Zealand had blocked its move to fly a Maori separatist flag aboard its yacht.

The weekend in New Zealand incorporated Waitangi Day, a national holiday commemorating the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi in which Maori, in 1840, pledged allegiance to the British crown.

The Maori sovereignty flag is not recognized as an official flag in New Zealand and its use is a political hot potato. Alinghi’s move to fly the flag, based on a claim that two of its crewmen have Maori ancestry, was seen by some as provocative and dismissive of sensitive race relations in New Zealand.

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