America's Cup 2021: Organisers, Challengers of Record at loggerheads over racing in COVID-19 lockdown

America's Cup organisers and challengers appear at loggerheads over when racing should resume under COVID-19 lockdown.

Challengers of record Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli lead the Prada Cup challenger final 4-0 over INEOS Team UK, with racing suspended under Auckland's Alert Level 3 restrictions.

While Wednesday's scheduled races have been scrapped, awaiting further developments, the Italians are pushing to resume the programme on Friday, regardless of whether the city remains at Level 3 status.

But America's Cup Events - essentially Emirates Team NZ - wants racing delayed up to a week, until Auckland returns to Level 1, with the next month's America's Cup series also put back to accommodate.

"As event organisers, we have spent a considerable amount of time since Sunday evening looking at all possible scenarios," says ACE chair Tina Symmans.

"Like the majority of events around the country 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."

ACE proposes racing resume on the weekend, as long as Auckland drops to Alert Level 1.

If the city remains at Level 3 or 2, the challenger final would recommence on Friday, February 26 and the America's Cup match also delayed until March 13.

But, under agreed challenger conditions, the Prada Cup must be completed by February 24 - next Wednesday - and if racing cannot resume before then, Luna Rossa would be declared winners, as current leaders in the best-of-13 series.  

As Challengers of record, Luna Rossa control the challenger competition, but presumably must abide by the laws of host country/city.

"COR 36 [Challenger of Record] is indeed endeavoring to ensure that the Prada Cup final resumes as early as February 19, whilst respecting public health and the protocols imposed by the New Zealand Government, and has offered its full support to ACE and to the local authorities to immediately implement the Level 3 Alert management plan provided for by the AC36 Event COVID-19 Management On Land and On Water Plans.

"These plans provide that, in a Level 3 COVID-19 alert, the AC36 Village shall be closed and the regattas shall resume 'behind closed doors', without any public, as it already happens for many international sporting events (Formula 1, Australian Open etc).

"This on water management plan has already been tested and can therefore be immediately activated with the approval of the authorities. Since teams are authorised 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."

Team NZ and ACE are eager to maximise public and sponsor engagement around the event, to leverage the massive central and local Government investment into the event.

On the other hand, their archrivals are obviously reluctant to allow Team UK more team to regroup from their disastrous start to the final series.

The British are understandably happy to delay racing until deemed safe to competitors and public.

"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,"they say. "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.

"The solution put forward by ACE is sensible in ensuring both the safety of all in New Zealand and the integrity of the sporting competition. TEAM UK will continue with our race preparations and be ready to race when it is safe to do so."

This stand-off will play out over the next few hours - up to and beyond the expected 4:30pm Government update - with reports of more community cases making it increasingly unlikely that Auckland will drop from its current Level 3 status.

Join us for live updates of the America's Cup challenger series between Luna Rossa and Team UK