Sailing-Chinese team in America's Cup talks, says Coutts

Reuters

By Alan Baldwin

LONDON, July 21 (Reuters) - A Chinese team is one of three talking to America's Cup organisers about joining the five challengers so far entered for the 2017 edition, five times winner Russell Coutts said on Tuesday.

"This new entity that is looking to come in would be (from) mainland China, which would be fantastic," the New Zealander, chief executive of the America's Cup Events Authority, told Reuters.

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Speaking at a media event organised by British watchmakers and official timing partners Bremont and with the 'Auld Mug' on display next to him, Coutts added that it was important they were competitive.

"I don't really want the Chinese to come in if they are not going to be competitive. I think it would do more harm than good," said Coutts, CEO of 2013 winners Oracle Team USA.

"You'd be better off bringing them in in the next cycle in my view, making sure that they have a really competitive team and are going to make a good show of it."

Of the three potential entries, Coutts was hopeful that one of them would "get across the line" but that was likely to be the limit.

"I frankly don't think there's much more room at the moment...for this cycle but ultimately it would be great to have 12 teams out there battling away," he added.

Interest in sailing in China is growing, with China's Dongfeng Race Team challenging strongly in the recent Volvo Ocean Race and CCTV television set to broadcast all stages of the 35th America's Cup, starting with this weekend's World Series event in Portsmouth, England.

"I went to mainland China for the first time a few years ago and at that stage I would have said 'Look, there's just no way sailing here can develop fast enough'," said Coutts.

"I then went back there and was just staggered at what had happened in the two years since.

"There is a transformation going on over there and quite a lot of development within the marine industry and a lot of interest from some of the owners to get more active in international sailing."

Previous Chinese teams have had no success.

"We've had Chinese teams in the past and they've frankly been a bit of an embarrassment for the people involved. We can't afford to have that," said Coutts.

Any new entrant would join teams from New Zealand, France, Britain, Sweden and Japan hoping to challenge holders Oracle Team USA in Bermuda in 2017. Australian and Italian teams have withdrawn.

Coutts said the 35th edition promised to be the most competitive yet with four times Olympic gold medallist Ben Ainslie's Land Rover-backed British team among the favourites.

"Could they win? Absolutely. They could definitely win it," said the New Zealander.

"Having said that, all six teams that are in the game now are very, very competitive. Of those six, five of them I believe could go on and ultimately win if they make the right decisions.

"And even the sixth team are no dummies. They could turn it around. I think it's very open this time.

"You look at a new team like Softbank Team Japan and some of the decisions that they've made in terms of getting personnel and putting together a new team -- I would rate them as definitely having a chance of winning." (Reporting by Alan Baldwin, editing by Justin Palmer)

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