Racing in 36th America’s Cup cleared to begin next week

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AUCKLAND, New Zealand — Racing in the 36th match for sailing’s America Cup between defender Team New Zealand and Italian challenger Luna Rossa will begin next Wednesday after the relaxation of COVID-19 lockdown regulations in host city Auckland.

The Cup Match was due to begin Saturday but was pushed back to Wednesday when Auckland, New Zealand’s largest city, moved to alert level 3 after a small community outbreak.

The outbreak is now thought contained and New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has announced Auckland will move to alert level 2 from Sunday. That will allow racing to take place in the best-of-13 race Match, albeit without crowds at the Cup village or fan zones ashore.

Two races will be sailed on Wednesday with an off-day Thursday. Racing will continue on the next four days — March 12 to 15 — and continue each day afterwards until one team has won seven races.

Auckland COVID outbreak forces America’s Cup postponement

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WELLINGTON, New Zealand — The first weekend of sailing in the America’s Cup has been postponed after new COVID-19 cases were reported in Auckland. It is now not likely to begin until March 10.

Auckland was placed in limited lockdown for seven days from 6 a.m. Sunday with travel restrictions into and out of New Zealand’s largest city, strict limits on public gatherings, and a ban on sports events.

The 36th match for the America’s Cup between Team New Zealand and Italy’s Luna Rossa was due to begin next Saturday. America’s Cup Events chairwoman Tina Symmans said Sunday the decision had been made early to give participants “some certainty in planning.

The alert level changes were announced late Saturday after two new coronavirus cases were located in the community which could not directly be linked to earlier cases. Auckland recently returned to level 1 after a small community cluster of infections.

“ACE has always said that it wishes to hold as much of the racing under level 1 restrictions as possible,” Symmans said. “But to be prudent, ACE will apply for an exemption to race under Level 3 restrictions so as to keep as many options open as possible.

“However, racing will not occur before at least Wednesday, March 10. We need to understand all likely scenarios so that an updated racing schedule can be put in place whilst also ensuring the regulatory requirements are met.”

Races in the America’s Cup challenger series took place this month without crowds when Auckland was at level 2. A government exemption would be needed and strict protocols would have to be in place for racing to take place at level 3.

America’s Cup organizers, Luna Rossa vie over COVID lockdown

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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.”