Alinghi, the America’s Cup holders, on Wednesday announced that the 33rd contest for the 158-year-old trophy, yacht racing’s oldest and most prestigious, will be held in the Middle East emirate of Ras al-Khaimah in February.
The decision confirms the Middle East’s expanding role as a sporting powerhouse in general and a force in world sailing, in which a lead has been taken in recent years by teams from Oman.
The venue and details of the next America’s Cup contest have been disputed in the New York Supreme court for almost two years between Alinghi, the defending team from Switzerland, its yacht club, the Société Nautique de Genève, and bitter rivals BMW-Oracle, the official challenger.
The American team, headed by software billionaire Larry Ellison, are expected to appeal against the Middle East move and have a separate court battle against Alinghi’s new 90ft carbon fibre catamaran, pictured, which controversially uses an engine to trim sails and shift ballast. Alinghi is owned by Swiss pharmaceutical heir Ernesto Bertarelli.
Since the launch of its boat last month, Alinghi has been conducting trials on Lake Geneva, Switzerland, and will travel to Genoa, Italy, to continue testing and training before shipping Alinghi 5 to Ras al-Khaimah to prepare for the one on one best-of-three races America’s Cup match.
Alinghi first won the cup in New Zealand in 2003 and successfully defended it in Valencia in 2007. BMW-Oracle has tried twice to win the cup. The new multi-hull boats, estimated to cost $10m each, are the fastest in the race’s history .
Ras al-Khaimah, one of seven United Arab Emirates which is in the southern Persian Gulf, was chosen because, said Fred Meyer, vice-commodore of the SNG: “This is a venue that offers perfect weather and great sailing conditions for a match in February. The authorities have shown tremendous interest in, and support for, hosting the America’s Cup; and the country has experience in organising first-class sporting events such as ATP tennis, PGA golf and Formula One.
“They will make a purpose-built island available at the Al Hamra Village in Ras al-Khaimah to provide the America’s Cup teams, sponsors and fans with an outstanding venue.” The event is scheduled at the 22-hectare luxury resort for February 8.
Alinghi skipper Brad Butterworth said: “Our absolute priorities in making this decision are the prevailing weather conditions and the resulting safety that they bring to both teams. We looked everywhere for a venue that suited having good racing for the match dates in February.
“We had trained in the UAE in the winter with Alinghi before and in the end we settled on Ras al-Khaimah in particular because of the infrastructure in Al Hamra Village and because it has a great building sea breeze during the day, similar to Mediterranean conditions in the summer, making it good for these boats and safe for all concerned.”
Sheikh Saud Bin Saqr Al Qasimi, Crown Prince of Ras al-Khaimah, said: “It is a great moment for us to host the America’s Cup here. It is significant because it reflects how the emirates have become a place for hosting international events. It is a reflection on what we have achieved in terms of becoming the destination for tourists and trade and industry and is a reflection of our integration in the world at large.
“This announcement reflects the nature of our country and its aim of becoming host to many nationalities who live side by side in peace. It is a great moment for us to host this prestigious event and to welcome all the sports people to the UAE and to Ras al-Khaimah to watch this great event.”
Simon Greaves is FT.com’s sailing correspondent
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