Ras al-Khaimah cannot host the America's Cup based on the 19th century document that governs sailing's marquee regatta, a United States judge ruled on Tuesday.
The decision by Justice Shirley Kornreich of the New York State Supreme Court is a blow to two-time defending champion Alinghi of Switzerland.
Alinghi picked the Gulf port, part of the United Arab Emirates, for their February showdown against challenger BMW Oracle Racing.
Kornreich said her decision was based on the stipulation in the 1887 Deed of Gift, the race's rules, that the America's Cup could not be sailed in the Northern Hemisphere between November 1 and May 1, not on concerns by the Americans that Ras al-Khaimah was unsafe due to its proximity to Iran.
"I don't believe that I have the ability to deviate from the Deed of Gift," Kornreich said.
"This is a disappointing result as we were certain that Justice Cahn's May 2008 decision allowed the Defender to chose Valencia or 'any other location'," said Lucien Masmejan, the legal counsel for the Société Nautique de Genève (SNG), Alinghi's sponsoring club.
"We are satisfied, however, as Justice Kornreich confirmed that the Deed of Gift Match will be conducted under SNG rules as she had already ruled in a previous court order," Masmejan added.
Tom Ehman, spokesman for the Golden Gate Yacht Club, BMW Oracle's sponsor, said his side was "pleased" with the decision.
"Cancelling" the race
The rare one-on-one showdown in massive multi-hulled boats now appears headed to Valencia, Spain unless the bitter rivals can agree on another port that complies with the Deed of Gift.
In that case, it would have to be in the Southern Hemisphere. Valencia is the "default" location for the race.
"Your honour, you're cancelling the America's Cup," said Barry Ostrager, an SNG lawyer.
"This is sort of a cataclysmic decision that you're making," he added, warning of "colossal harm to the sport, the event, to Ras al-Khaimah and the America's Cup."
The best-of-three series is scheduled to begin February 8. Alinghi's choice of Ras al-Khaimah has been the most contentious issue in a convoluted, two-year court fight between Silicon Valley maverick Larry Ellison and billionaire Ernesto Bertarelli.
Kornreich acknowledged time was growing short: "I think that the race is being endangered," she said. She said she ruled from the bench Tuesday to speed an expected appeal by the Swiss.
David Boies, an attorney for the Golden Gate Yacht Club, said the upheaval "doesn't have to be cataclysmic." Valencia was ready to host the race, he said.
Soon after the Swiss picked Ras al-Khaimah in early August, Ellison raised concerns because the sailing would take place about 129 kilometres from Iran's coastline.
On Monday, BMW Oracle accused the Swiss of neglecting their duties as trustees of the race, saying Alinghi had shown "reckless and repeated disregard in its stewardship of the America's Cup".
Alinghi has been sailing its 27-metre catamaran, Alinghi 5, in Ras al-Khaimah for more than a week. They had picked the port based on an April ruling by a separate judge that they could sail the match in Valencia or "any other location selected by the SNG".
BMW Oracle Racing's 27-metre trimaran, which will be named USA, has been undergoing testing in San Diego since last autumn.
The space age-looking craft is back in the water after undergoing extensive modifications.
swissinfo.ch and agencies
In its Monday court filings, BMW Oracle accused the Swiss of betraying their duties as trustees of the 33rd America's Cup.
The California Club said Alinghi had:
- Offered the America's Cup hosting rights in order to extract secret commercial deals.
- Repeatedly attempted to seize control of the rules and officiating processes to ensure that Alinghi can not lose.
- Moved to disqualify its trimaran despite assurances to the New York Supreme Court that this would not happen.
- Selected Ras al-Khaimah to further its own business interests while exposing BMW Oracle to unnecessary danger.
Alinghi called the accusations "a completely media-driven public relations stunt."
"There is absolutely nothing in the complaint that either hasn't been the subject of judicial decisions in the courts of New York or scheduled to be decided by the courts of New York," said Barry Ostrager, a New York lawyer who represents the Swiss.