Sailing-New Zealand, Italian America's Cup challenges in doubt

WELLINGTON, March 27 (Reuters) – New Zealand’s challenge for the next America’s Cup could be in doubt, while the Italian challengers Luna Rossa have also threatened to withdraw after the organisers changed their minds on the type of boat to be used for the 35th regatta in 2017.

Organisers said on Wednesday they had changed the size of the boat for the next regatta in Bermuda from the previously agreed AC62 foiling catamarans to the smaller AC45 in order to cut costs for the syndicates.

The decision has sparked a crisis for Team New Zealand, who were beaten by holders Oracle Team USA in San Francisco in 2013, because part of the trade-off from downsizing the boats was to cancel a challenger series planned for Auckland before the final regatta in Bermuda, the team said on Friday.

“The proposal was to go down to AC 45s, a much smaller boat, and lose Auckland as the qualifier… or stay with the 62s and come to Auckland as the qualifier,” Team New Zealand head Grant Dalton said in a video statement on their Facebook page.

“That was the chip that was played to convince other teams.”

New Zealand’s challenge, expected to be around NZ$100 million ($75.55 million) for the 2017 campaign, has been previously part funded by the taxpayer, but after failing to lift the Cup in 2013 the team was told any future funding would be reduced and contingent on significant economic return for the country.

“We are interested in being involved as a sponsor as a much lower basis than last time, and on the basis there is a qualifying series in Auckland,” Economic Development Minister Steven Joyce told the New Zealand Herald on Friday.

“If that was to change then we could not be involved.”

The furore follows a statement from Italian challengers Luna Rossa that they would withdraw if organisers did not revert to the original class rules.

The Italians said they had not agreed to the rule change and that it needed the unanimous approval of all teams competing before such a decision could be made.

“Luna Rossa does not believe that a sporting event should be disputed in a courtroom and does not intend to initiate a lengthy litigation process that would only bring prejudice to the event,” the team, backed by Italian billionaire Patrizio Bertelli, said in a statement.

“If the principle of unanimity of all challengers required to change the Class Rule were not to be respected Luna Rossa will be obliged to withdraw from the 35th America’s Cup.”

($1 = 1.3236 New Zealand dollars) (Reporting by Greg Stutchbury; Editing by Sudipto Ganguly)

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