WELLINGTON, New Zealand — Challenger of Record Luna Rossa and America’s Cup organizers are divided over how the regatta should proceed while Auckland remains under limited lockdown because of a small community outbreak of COVID-19.
America’s Cup Events Ltd wants sailing to be postponed until lockdown regulations, which restrict spectator involvement, are lifted.
Luna Rossa said it is prepared to race on Thursday, even if a lockdown remains in force, and is opposed to any delays which would cause racing in the America’s Cup challenger series to go beyond its scheduled final day of Feb. 24.
The Italian team, which holds a 4-0 lead over Team UK in the first-to-seven-win challenger series final, said the team that leads the final on Feb. 24 should be declared the winner.
Luna Rossa said any postponement beyond that date would breach regatta regulations, and plans exist to allow racing to continue during Level 3 or Level 2 lockdown while respecting public health and government guidelines.
“Since teams are authorized to sail and practice under COVID-19 level 3 alert it is hard to understand why racing ‘behind closed doors’ could not be allowed applying the same protocols,” Luna Rossa said in a statement.
But Team UK, siding with the organizers, supported a postponement.
“The result of the Prada Cup final should be won and decided on the water in the agreed format of first to win seven races,” the team said in a statement. “Ineos Team UK fully respect the government’s decision to curtail racing until it is safe to do so and would support a delay in the competition if that is required.”
Team UK said the solution put forward by organizers “is sensible in ensuring both the safety of all in New Zealand and the integrity of the sporting competition.”
Auckland was placed on Level 3 alert level for 72 hours from midnight Sunday after the discovery of three community cases of COVID-19. The scheduled fifth and sixth races of the Prada Cup final on Wednesday did not take place because Level 3 limits gatherings to 10 people and requires public venues to close.
Three more community cases, related to the first three, were reported Wednesday and New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced the alert level will be move to level 2 from midnight Wednesday.
“As event organizers we have spent a considerable amount of time since Sunday evening looking at all possible scenarios,” ACE chairperson Tina Symmans said. “Like the majority of events around (New Zealand) this weekend, the ramifications of running the remainder of the event need to be considered in an environment which is highly uncertain due to the latest COVID-19 concerns.”
Symmans said after consultation with the New Zealand government and Auckland City Council “one consideration has been to postpone the current schedule of racing and events in the best interests of the public and all stakeholders given the current COVID-19 environment.”
She said if Auckland moved to alert Level 1, at which there are no restrictions on public gatherings, racing could have resumed immediately.
“If the alert level remains at 3 or 2, which obviously entails restrictions in gatherings and difficulties with events, racing and event activations would need to be rescheduled to recommence the Prada Cup Final on Friday, Feb. 26.”
In that circumstance, the start of the America’s Cup match between the winning challenger and defender Team New Zealand will be pushed back from March 6 to March 13. Racing will still be completed by March 21.
Symmans said Luna Rossa has made very clear “their desire to race from (Thursday) despite COVID Alert level 3, to complete the Prada Cup final by Feb. 24.”
Symmans said there is “no guarantee as to what COVID-19 alert level Auckland or New Zealand will be operating under.
“If the event is faced with operating under COVID-19 Level 2 or 3, plans are in place to ensure the continued delivery and conclusion of the 36th America’s Cup … within the scheduled dates.”