America's Cup 2021: Challenger final series to resume this weekend

The America's Cup challenger finals between Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli and INEOS Team UK will resume this weekend, organisers have confirmed.

America's Cup Events wanted to delay a return to the water until Auckland had moved back to COVID-19 Alert Level 1 to allow crowds to attend, while challengers of record Luna Rossa remained adamant that racing should continue immediately.

Event organisers aren't happy with the outcome, reluctantly conceding to the Italian syndicate's wishes.

"This is a disappointing situation," says ACE chair Tina Symmans. "It is my responsibility to do my best to run the event with the best interests of the public and all stakeholders in mind.

"ACE now considers the best solution that can be hoped for is to continue racing this weekend, which will at least allow as much opportunity as possible for the public to enjoy the viewing in small gatherings or via the TV broadcast.

"Since Sunday, we have worked really hard on behalf of everyone in Auckland and all Kiwis to give COR [challenger of record] the opportunity to demonstrate some honour and respect for this country, and delay the PRADA Cup until we have a greater chance of everyone being able to enjoy and benefit from being back into Level 1."

Symmans suggests Luna Rossa's stance is a display of disrespect to both the event and the host country.

"Clearly, they have forgotten the words of their leader Patricio Bertelli at the opening press conference, who spoke about how privileged everyone is to be in Auckland without significant COVID restrictions, and that therefore everyone has a commitment and responsibility to deliver great sportsmanship, and the Prada Cup to be a major sporting event.

"This plea has fallen on deaf ears and it's clear that their focus is solely on Luna Rossa taking the Prada Cup, rather than the greater good of the country, who have worked so hard in order to be in a position to stage this event."

ACE outlined a list of restrictions for racing under Level 2, which states:

  • Racecourses B and C will not be used for racing, to mitigate the chance of large public gatherings on shore, which are in line with Government Level 2 restrictions.

  • No public viewing opportunities, such as dock-out shows or public screening of racing in the race village.

  • Gatherings of no more than 100 people in the America's Cup Race Village or public spectator vantage points around Auckland.

  • Limited village activations to ensure no more than 100 people.

  • Two-metre physical distancing and face masks recommended.

  • All bars, restaurants and cafes surrounding the race village can remain open in line with Ministry of Health COVID-19 Level 2 guidelines.

  • Public are reminded to always scan the NZCOVID19 tracer app.

Luna Rossa have come under fire for their refusal to bow to the organisers' demands.

But Francesco Longanesi Cattani - a spokesperson for Prada chief executive Patrizio Bertelli - has struck back, claiming his team - as challengers of record - are well within their rights.

"I disagree totally with the sporting comments that Tina Symmans has made," he says. "Anything that has to be with sporting fairness, relates to the respect of the rules of regulations, and this is what we’re doing and what we wanted to implement.

"We want to respect the Government provisions regarding the COVID situation and the protocols that have been agreed with the organisers, with ACE, and have been in place, which allow the racing to go on under Level 2.

"The fact that they comment COR is just pushing for Luna Rossa, I disagree, because the opportunity of racing gives INEOS more chances to win races and to win on the water."

While Luna Rossa are keen to restart racing on Friday, race director Iain Murray says that's "unlikely", with some operational adjustments to be worked through under the new Level 2 guidelines.

"We have a press release that says we can race on Saturday and Sunday, so I think racing tomorrow is probably unlikely," Murray says.

"One of the requirements for us, that's been there consistently from the beginning, is to maintain a safe on-water operation and that relies heavily on over 100 volunteers that have been trained to man the safety marshalling boats around the course.

"We had a meeting this morning to discuss that and obviously, because these people are volunteers and some of them are in some restrictions, there’s a fair bit to work through there."

Team UK have expressed their disappointment that the new schedule won't allow for fans, but say they respect the organisers' decision.

"Whilst INEOS TEAM UK has not been consulted, we fully respect and will abide by the decision of ACE, and will be ready to race as requested," they say.

"We believe this potential outcome would be a shame for the racing fans in Auckland, when the city has done such a wonderful job of staging the regatta. 

"Given that it is a possibility that Auckland may move to Level 1 by Monday, we feel that delaying the restart until Monday would enable full spectator participation, even if this means racing continues past February 24."

Join us for live updates of the America's Cup challengers final from Saturday afternoon