Alinghi, in last appeal, makes its case for RAK

The America's Cup sailing champions argued in a New York court that it should not be deprived of its right to face BMW Oracle Racing.

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NEW YORK // The reigning America's Cup sailing champions, Alinghi of Switzerland, argued in a New York court on Wednesday that it should not be deprived of its right to face its American challenger, BMW Oracle Racing, in Ras al Khaimah. The Swiss team asked New York Supreme Court's Appellate Division to overturn a lower-court ruling that RAK was ineligible to host the showdown beginning on February 8 because the 19th-century Deed of Gift, which governs the competition, prohibits racing in the northern hemisphere between November 1 and May 1.

Alinghi also asked that competition be delayed until May if the court does not reinstate RAK in February. That would allow its choice of RAK to comply with the Deed of Gift. The Alinghi spokesman, Lucien Masmejan, said that if the Swiss appeal failed the team would face BMW Oracle in Valencia, Spain, in February. Although Valencia is also in the northern hemisphere, neither side objected earlier in the long, twisting court fight to holding the series there. Valencia hosted the 2007 America's Cup, and both teams still have bases in the city.

There was no explanation why the panel included only four judges instead of the expected five. If the panel splits 2-2, it is believed the case will be reheard by a five-judge panel. The Swiss have had their 90ft catamaran, Alinghi 5, in RAK since late September. "We are in RAK and would prefer to stay in RAK," Mr Masmejan said after both sides gave oral arguments. "We selected the venue in good faith and now we have to move. If we cannot do it in February, we would like to do it in May in RAK. If not, let's go to Valencia in February."

Even as they pressed on with their appeal, the Swiss announced two weeks ago that they were preparing to race in Valencia. They also floated Australia as a possible compromise location. The court fight between the American software tycoon Larry Ellison and the Swiss biotech mogul Ernesto Bertarelli, who respectively finance the Oracle and Alinghi teams, has hinged on the court's interpretation of the Deed of Gift, written in 1887.

Although the Deed of Gift stipulates that racing between November 1 and May 1 must take place in the southern hemisphere, Justice Herman Cahn, who is now retired, ruled in May 2008 that "the location of the match shall be in Valencia, Spain, or any other location selected by SNG." That led Alinghi's backing yacht club, Société Nautique de Genève, to select RAK. BMW Oracle, backed by San Francisco's Golden Gate Yacht Club, fought back, citing not only the Deed of Gift but also concerns about safety because of RAK's proximity to Iran.

* Associated Press