Ras Al Khaimah: The Swiss defenders of the America's Cup strongly rejected security worries about holding the event in the Middle East for the first time and said Saturday they would be open to racing others in the Gulf if their U.S.-based challenger refuses to come.
The comments by Alinghi team president Ernesto Bertarelli hinted at the possibility that the bitter dispute over the venue - less than 80 miles (130 kilometers) from the Iranian coastline - could threaten the rare one-on-one competition in February for the oldest trophy in international sports.
The U.S. challenger, BMW Oracle, has filed suit in New York Supreme Court - which has jurisdiction in America's Cup legal spats - to overturn Alinghi's selection of Ras Al Khaimah because its proximity to Iran raised security fears.
Alinghi has also filed court papers defending its stunning choice to move the 158-year-old competition to the Gulf port, about 60 miles (100 kilometers) northeast of Dubai.
On Thursday, the Golden Gate Yacht Club of San Francisco, which backs BMW Oracle, said it is considering further court challenges.
Bertarelli said he still hopes to persuade BMW Oracle's owner, software tycoon Larry Ellison, to drop his objections. But it is clear that time is limited.
It took up to six weeks for Alinghi to get its sailing operations in place in Ras al-Khaimah, said Bertarelli, whose team took its catamaran, Alinghi 5, on its first Gulf training sail on Friday. That would mean BMW Oracle would likely need to begin its preparations by late December to be ready for the scheduled first race on Feb. 8. A hearing on the New York lawsuit is scheduled for Oct. 27.
"We can't force the Americans to show up if they don't want to show up," Bertarelli told The Associated Press.
He said there is no option to postpone the race and Alinghi would be open to racing another team if BMW Oracle refuses to come and is ruled as a forfeit by the America's Cup overseers.
A delay "is off the table. We have a commitment here with the country," he said. "We're ready to race in February."
He added that there are other teams that could be willing to step in for BMW Oracle, which had the right to ask for a one-on-one match under America's Cup rules.
"All of these other teams I'm sure would be happy to join us here in Ras al-Khaimah," he said. "I think we should open it up to other teams."
In the motion filed by BMW Oracle on Oct. 2, it cited "grave safety concerns" for its U.S.-based crew, which would be sailing a massive trimaran named USA near Iranian waters. BMW Oracle also has argued that Ras al-Khaimah is an unfit venue under the 19th-century document that governs the America's Cup - which has been held in Australia, New Zealand, Europe and the United States.
But Bertarelli said the U.S. team was coming up with "horror stories" that have no bearing in fact.
He noted that the United Arab Emirates hosts some of the world's premier sporting events - including an inaugural Formula 1 race in Abu Dhabi on Nov. 1 - and that bringing the America's Cup to the Gulf will generate more international interest in sailing.
"Do (BMW Oracle) really think we are children?" Bertarelli told a news conference.
"Come on. Let's get real and let's get sailing and stop inventing stuff," he said.
Bertarelli also claimed that holding the America's Cup in the Middle East could send an important message to the region.
"I think perhaps if we want friendship and dialogue between nations, one cannot only just send aircraft and soldiers. They have to send sportsmen," he said. "That's exactly what we are doing here."