Team New Zealand take Swiss champions to court

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The New Zealand syndicate for the next America's Cup race said Thursday it is seeking "tens of millions of euros" in compensation from Swiss champions Alinghi over the event's postponement.

Team New Zealand said it had filed a case with a New York court claiming damages for breach of contract arising from an agreement covering its entry for the 33rd edition of yachting's showpiece event.

The agreement included an "understanding entered into by (Alinghi boss) Ernesto Bertarelli that the America's Cup would go ahead in 2009," it said in a statement.

"It's now probable we might not see a normal regatta until 2011," Team New Zealand's managing director Grant Dalton said in the statement.

The statement did not indicate the amount of damages it was seeking. But Dalton told AFP in a telephone interview from New York that it would be "tens of millions of euros."

"We have a duty to protect the investment in the team over many years by a wide range of loyal supporters," Dalton said.

"We also have an obligation to honour the trust shown by the hundreds of thousands of New Zealanders who have supported the team through the years."

Alinghi retained the America's Cup by beating Team New Zealand in a hugely successful event in the Spanish port of Valencia in July.

But the 33rd edition of the race was indefinitely postponed because of a legal dispute between Alinghi and US syndicate Oracle over the rules.

Team New Zealand said it has also filed a second case in a Federal Court under US anti-trust laws.

That suit claims Alinghi "has acted to stifle competition for the Cup and for the right that goes with it of conducting future events" by accepting the Spanish syndicate Desafio as its challenger of record, "thereby enabling it to impose rules for the next event that were competely one-sided."

Oracle last July filed a lawsuit in the US against Alinghi's decision to name Desafio as its official challenger of record, which gave it the right to negotiate the format of the America's Cup with the Swiss syndicate.

In November, a New York court ruled in favour of Oracle and said the US team should be Alinghi's challenger of record.

"Bertarelli had the chance to accept a reasonable proposal from Oracle, which was also signed by the majority of the challengers, and which would have allowed the America's Cup to be held in 2009," Dalton said. "He would not do so."

Alinghi said it was "disappointed" by the action by Team New Zealand, "given their previous public acceptance and commitment to the competition.

"These actions are totally without merit, wildly miss the target and will be defended rigorously," Lucien Masmejan, Alinghi's legal counsel, said in a statement.

"We share the sailing community's frustration in the delays affecting the America's Cup but Alinghi, as trustee, is duty bound to defend its position in the current legal action and to preserve the integrity of the America's Cup."

The format of the 33rd America's Cup challenge is still subject to an imminent ruling by the New York court, with a multihull duel between Alinghi and Oracle seen as the most likely outcome, rather than a regatta involving several teams.

The two teams have begun training in catamarans in Valencia in preparation for such an event.

"The delay in staging the next America's Cup is harming every challenging syndicate as they have to stretch budgets for a two-year campaign over three or perhaps four years," Dalton said.

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