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Impatient Bertarelli tires of Oracle excuses

Ernesto Bertarelli speaks during a news conference in August in Genoa, northern Italy

(Keystone)

Ernesto Bertarelli, the billionaire head of Switzerland's Alinghi sailing syndicate, tells swissinfo.ch his crew is ready for action – all it needs now is an opponent.

BMW Oracle Racing, its challenger for the running of the 33rd America's Cup, sailing's most prestigious race, has asked a New York court to reject Alinghi's choice of venue for the race.

Geneva-based Alinghi, the two-time defending champion, picked Ras al-Khaimah, one of the seven emirates of the United Arab Emirates (UAE), as the venue in August. The best-of-three race is supposed to begin on February 8, 2010.

California-based Oracle Racing cited "grave safety concerns" due to the port's proximity to islands occupied by Iran in a dispute with the UAE. It wants to stage the event at Valencia, Spain, where the previous race was held in 2007.

Tom Ehman, spokesman for Oracle Racing, said the choice of venue was prohibited by the race's historic Deed of Gift.

"Obviously we are keen to race Alinghi - why else would we have spent all the time, effort and money to design, build, test, modify, re-test, and now once again modify our yacht?" he added.

"We're ready. Let Oracle finally face us on the water and not in court," Bertarelli told swissinfo.ch at his sparkling new base on the artificial island in Al Hamra Village, Ras al-Khaimah's exclusive luxury residential and leisure development.

swissinfo.ch: How are your preparations going in Ras al-Khaimah for the 33rd America's Cup?

Ernesto Bertarelli: Alinghi are ready. The boat arrived about three weeks ago and we've already carried out the first tests on the water with representatives of the Swiss delegation and the international media.

We're ready to race, to defend the Swiss colours and keep the America's Cup. We're waiting impatiently for the Americans to finally challenge us.

swissinfo.ch: What is their latest response to the invitation?

E.B.: It's rather disappointing. One gets the impression that they're trying to avoid this race that they've wanted so much. We're here, we've got a magnificent stretch of water and a superb infrastructure. I repeat: everything is ready. The Swiss are ready.

swissinfo.ch: How do you explain Oracle's attitude?

E.B.: With great difficulty. Maybe they're not confident of having a boat that's fast enough to beat us and they're trying to win time... and maybe they're even trying to avoid coming so as not to lose. But when you engage in sport – and all athletes know this – if you're not willing to risk losing, you should find something else to do, because nothing's ever certain.

swissinfo.ch: The Americans contest the choice of the UAE, notably raising concerns about security. What's your reaction?

E.B.: If there were security problems in the Strait of Hormuz [the narrow, strategically important waterway between Iran and the UAE and Musandam, an exclave of Oman], we'd know about it. Forty per cent of the world's oil shipments pass through here, so if there really were problems, everyone on the planet would be affected, because whenever they went to fill up their car it would cost double what it does today.

These are obviously excuses to avoid the encounter. But I hope the Americans see reason and honour and that they'll come and challenge Swiss technology like they wanted: in a sporting environment and not in the law courts.

swissinfo.ch: What's the infrastructure like provided by Ras al-Khaimah?

E.B.: Simply incredible. Not only in size, but above all the speed at which it has been carried out. I thought the Spaniards worked wonders when they organised bases and a stretch of water for us for the 32nd America's Cup, but I have to say that they've been beaten!

The effort, involvement and quality that has been delivered are exceptional. So, everything is ready – we're just waiting for the Americans to take to the water and see who's the best.

Mohamed Cherif in Ras al-Khaimah, swissinfo.ch (Translated from French by Thomas Stephens)

America's Cup

The America's Cup is the oldest and most prestigious trophy in the sport of sailing. It is awarded to the winner of a series of regattas between the defender of the cup and the challenger.

The competition, held for the first time in England in 1851, was won by America, with a boat from the New York Yacht Club. The club held the cup for 132 years until it was beaten in 1983.

By defeating the defending champion, New Zealand, in 2003, Alinghi brought the trophy for the first time to Europe.

The 33rd America's Cup is due to take place in February 2010 at a place to be defined.

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Naval Battle

In July 2007 after Alinghi's victory in the 32nd America's Cup, Alinghi boss Ernesto Bartarelli chose a challenge from Spain as the "Challenger of Record" for the 33rd event. Oracle Racing accused the Swiss syndicate of fixing the rules in their favour.

Basing its claims on the "Deed of Gift" document, Oracle said the club representing the Spanish challenge was fictitious and did not conform with holding an annual ocean regatta.

After a long procedure and contradictory legal decisions, the Court of Appeal of New York State ruled in Oracle's favour on April 2, 2009 and obliged Alinghi to negotiate with the American challenger on the terms of the next America's Cup.

The battle in the courts was not over. Oracle accused Alinghi of unilaterally adapting the rules. The Swiss counter-attacked and demanded the American court to disqualify Oracle.

On Tuesday, the judge in charge of the case called on the Swiss and the Americans to restart mediated talks, which they accepted.

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(swissinfo.ch)


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