America’s Cup 2021: Inside the 60-minute Prada Cup meeting that did ‘irrevocable damage’

The latest America’s Cup controversy erupted on Wednesday morning, during a meeting between the main stakeholders of the event.

But as America’s Cup Events (ACE) and the Challenger of Record (COR) faced off over the rescheduling of the Prada Cup, there were no fists banged on the table or glares across the room.

The dialogue unfolded during a conference call – with most participants at home or in their hotel rooms – which seems appropriate in these times of Covid-19 and endless Zoom meetings.

The digital gathering commenced at 9am on Wednesday. Those present included Tina Symmans (chair of ACE), Grant Dalton, Team New Zealand legal advisor Russell Green and media manager Hamish Hooper. In the opposite corner was Prada head of communications Francesco Longanesi Cattani and their general counsel Alessandra Pandarese. Also in attendance was Luna Rossa skipper Max Sirena and Ineos Team UK chief executive Grant Simmer.

After some initial preliminaries, Symmans announced the intention to postpone the restart of the Prada Cup final until next weekend, with the America’s Cup match also pushed back by one week.

The idea was to maximise the chances of racing under alert level 1, though that went against the conditions of the match, which had a hard deadline of February 24 to conclude the Prada Cup final.

“They came a little bit out of the blue with this proposal and I immediately said it was not acceptable,” Longanesi Cattani told the Herald. “We said we were utterly, totally against this proposal.”

As the different representatives offered their views, frank opinions were expressed, though no strong language, according to those present.

But there was equally no resolution and the hour-long meeting finished with more questions than answers.

There were further discussions throughout Wednesday, but no breakthrough, with COR insisting that racing should be undertaken as soon as possible, according to the Covid-19 plan agreed months ago, while ACE wanted to extend the programme, in the interests of the public and commercial benefits to the city and businesses.

The impasse continued until just before 11am on Thursday. Minutes before a press conference called by COR, ACE sent a media release saying that racing would continue this weekend, as the “best solution that can be hoped for” given that their ongoing pleas to COR had fallen on “deaf ears”.

That changed the tone of the press conference, but not the perception that almost irrevocable damage has been done to the already tense relationship between ACE and COR.

“They have been obstructive, without any logical explanation,” said Longanesi Cattani of the latest episode.

The Prada representative accused ACE of being contradictory in their reasoning.

“They told us at a certain moment that we needed an exemption to race in level 2, then they told us that we didn’t need this exemption but they still wanted to go on level 1 because there were too many people on North Head or whatever.”

By 4:30pm on Thursday the revised schedule was confirmed, with racing to recommence on Saturday, followed by two races on Sunday and further races on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, if necessary.

Luna Rossa lead Ineos Team UK 4-0 in the best-of-13 final and need three wins to advance to the America’s Cup match.

In terms of concerns over the economic impact, Longanesi Cattani said that racing under alert level 2 was better than none at all, adding that people would still be able to gather in restaurants, bars and cafes on the Viaduct, as well as on the water.

“It is a minor restriction,” he said. “The best thing that can happen is that racing goes on.”

In response Symmans denied the assertion that ACE had been “obstructive” in their recent dealings with COR.

“We struggle to see how they perceive this as we have been abundantly clear as to the reasons and logic for wanting a change in the dates to take advantage of the opportunity we have to potentially see racing under level 1,” Symmans told the Herald.

When asked about the relationship with COR, the ACE chair agreed it was strained, “because we disagree with disadvantaging the New Zealand public in this way.”

Symmans also warned that the economic impact of racing under level 2, instead of waiting for level 1, could be profound.

“We don’t have specific numbers,” said Symmans. “But it is pretty obvious to see looking at the village, the bars and restaurants all deserted – which they will remain under level 2 compared to up to 30,000 people through the village on a busy race day and all of the bars, restaurants and cafes packed with patrons.

“Add to that the hotel nights from domestic tourists and all associated activities [and] it will not be a small number. [It] will be clear just looking out the window on Saturday unfortunately.

“We had an opportunity to minimise the economic impact of the latest lockdown and maximise the public engagement and interaction in the event, but that opportunity was not taken for one reason or another.”

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