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Cup Challengers Make Threats : Sailing: Dispute over rule could result in a boycott, group says.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

At a meeting in Del Mar last month, Tom Ehman predicted much back-stabbing and finger-pointing ahead for the America’s Cup regatta.

The games have begun.

Challengers for the 1992 America’s Cup have threatened to boycott the regatta unless a rule is changed to allow them to launch new boats after the Dec. 20 deadline.

At a Oct. 5 meeting in France, Ernie Taylor, executive director of the Challenger of Record Committee--which represents all challengers--said the 10 challenging syndicates will decide whether to withdraw.

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Hogwash, said Ehman, executive vice president of the America’s Cup Organizing Committee.

“It’s just typical America’s Cup bluff and bluster, typical maneuvering,” he said. “Other challengers didn’t even know (Taylor) was going to do any of this. He had no authorization to threaten to boycott.”

At the crux of the controversy is a March ruling by a group of America’s Cup trustees--one each from the Royal Perth, New York and San Diego yacht clubs--requiring each challenger to select, by the December deadline, the boat it will sail in the trials.

The defender can wait until the day before the first race, May 8, to choose a boat. Such are the terms as laid out in the Deed of Gift, a century-old document that governs the event.

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Taylor said he suggested the boycott after receiving a letter Tuesday from Ehman, holding the CORC to the date. Challengers who do not identify their yachts by then would become invalid, the letter states.

“If he wants to say we’re invalid, so be it, and we’ll run a series without the America’s Cup,” Taylor said.

The challenger series will start in late January or early February, depending on the number of syndicates remaining. The challengers believe they shouldn’t have to name their yachts until 10 days before the start of the series.

But Ehman said the trustees already had given the challengers a five-month grace period. Under the deed of gift, the challengers could have been forced to to present their boats for measurement by July 9, 10 months before the regatta.

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Taylor says the 10-month rule hasn’t been used for more than 30 years.

“No one can recollect when the 10-month rule was last in effect,” he said. “Ehman’s trying to invent a new rule.”

The SDYC will be represented by the winner of an elimination series between America-3, skippered by Bill Koch, and Stars & Stripes, led by Dennis Conner, the defending America’s Cup skipper. Ehman sees Taylor’s move as carving more of an advantage for the challengers.

“They have such an overwhelming advantage on the defenders, and now they’re trying to make another grab,” Ehman said. “What’s Ernie’s trying to do is buy more time for the richer syndicates: the Japanese, the Italians, the New Zealanders.”

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Italy and New Zealand expect to have either fourth- or fifth-generation boats ready by December. Koch probably will have a third-generation boat; Conner is struggling to raise money for a second boat.

Ehman insists that the defenders aren’t willing to bend the rules and give the extension to the challengers.

“Our defenders are adamant that we don’t cave in and give any more ground away,” he said. “We don’t even have a 50-50 shot right now, (the challengers) have five times the numbers of boats being build, talents, money . . . and now they’re trying to chisel away at the the rules already agreed upon.”

But Taylor said the CORC never agreed to the March ruling.

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“Absolutely not,” he said. “The track record of ACOC and telling the truth is not very good.”

Jerry LaDow, executive director of Team Dennis Conner, says it’s “much ado about nothing. The date’s been on the calendar for months and all of the sudden Ernie is going through some interesting gyrations. I don’t understand the game.”

Taylor says he has the full support of all the challengers, while Ehman says he doesn’t. But Stefano Roberti, press officer for Il Moro di Venezia, the Italian syndicate, seems to be in Taylor’s camp.

“We’re behind him 130%,” he said. “We’re tired and upset at the way the America’s Cup event is run at this moment. This is the last arrogance that we cannot accept.”

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Roberti sees the ACOC running the America’s Cup with its own self-interest first in mind.

“The defenders have some power,” Roberti said. “It has two functions, to organize the event and the defense of the Cup. In this case, the ACOC is more taking care of the interest of the defense of the Cup than running a fair event. They’re trying to create as many problems for the challengers as possible. They’re forgotten this is world-class sporting event that has to be run with a certain class.”

David Rosow, executive director of America-3, says he doesn’t see the boycott happening.

“I don’t take the talk seriously,” he said. “I don’t see the Italians breaking camp or the Australians, or the Japanese either. It’s just a nice diversion from all the financial talk.”

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Rosow says there are issues much bigger than the date the boats being measured.

“What more do we have to give them,” he said. “We’ve already given them American helmsmen and the talent . . . It would be a travesty to have the America’s Cup won by Italians with a very expensive American helmsman sailing the boat, backed up up by a broad team of American coaches and sailors maintaining their campaign.”


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