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Saudi sailing crosses line for Ross, Farmer and American Magic

May 12, 2023

America’s Cup preliminary event in Jeddah may go ahead without key American challenger.

America’s Cup legal expert Hamish Ross has resigned his membership of the Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron (RNZYS) in protest at Team New Zealand’s decision to host one of its AC37 preliminary regattas off the coast of Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.

The New York Yacht Club’s challenger team for the regatta, American Magic, is also reported to be dissatisfied with Saudi Arabia hosting the event and has lodged proceedings with the Cup arbitration panel. Sailing on the Red Sea off Jeddah is set to occur between November 30 and December 3 this year.

In a public Facebook post, Ross compared support of Saudi Arabia with Nazi Germany, saying he “declines to be associated with any support of that regime, no less than, say, retrospectively, the 1936 Berlin Olympics”.

Ross, a former commercial partner at Bell Gully, who wrote his PhD thesis on the America’s Cup ‘deed of gift’ governing document, has been a vocal opponent of Team New Zealand’s proposal to host the event overseas.

His 2021 attempt to mobilise squadron members against the plan eventually failed, and it will be held in Barcelona next year but with preliminary stops in Jeddah and Vilanova i La Geltrú – just west of Barcelona.

“There is no quantity of silver that can justify the selection of Jeddah,” he said in the Facebook post, calling out the Saudi kingdom’s “appalling” human rights record.

“As others in the NZL media have eloquently pointed out, there is now much hypocrisy behind the much-touted ‘green’ America’s Cup and its advancement of women in the sport, with this selection.”

Ross’s post garnered 74 likes and 39 comments, all of which were supportive of his principled move.

Speaking to NBR, Ross put Saudi Arabia in the same league as North Korea and Myanmar in terms of human rights abuses.

Ross said he had been an active RNZYS member for 28 years, is a life member of the Classic Yacht Association, and had personally participated in seven America’s Cups.

He has provided legal services for four different America’s Cup syndicates over seven campaigns, including the New York Yacht Club (NYYC).

When NBR reported on his 2021 attempt to scupper the plan to take the Cup overseas, Team New Zealand alleged he was acting as an agent of the NYYC and “seeking to impose their agenda on the RNZYS and the 37th America’s Cup”.

Ross responded at the time that he was “not acting for New York Yacht Club in this matter at all”.

New York Yacht Club

Yachting journalist and NYYC member Tom Ehman is reporting on his Sailing Illustrated channel that NYYC has filed papers to the America’s Cup arbitration panel seeking relief from any penalties that may be imposed upon it due to its non-participation in Jeddah.

Ehman said those penalties could include exclusion from the main America’s Cup event.

He drew attention to the fact that 17 of the 19 hijackers on 9/11 were Saudi Arabians, concluding it would be unpalatable for the NYYC to race there.

America’s Cup arbitration proceedings are not published until they are resolved. A description of the preliminary events on the official America’s Cup website said all six teams confirmed as entries for the Cup itself will be attending the first preliminary regatta at Vilanova i La Geltrú, but does not make any claim about the level of participation at Jeddah.

There is also expectation that Jeddah may be in the running to have a major role to play in future America’s Cup campaigns – including hosting the main event – should Team New Zealand continue to dictate terms, Ehman said.

Another New Zealand-based critic, King’s Counsel Jim Farmer, recently published a blog post arguing against Jeddah’s involvement in the Cup.

“Dalton’s claim that his taking Saudi money to hold an America’s Cup regatta will help end human rights abuses is, of course, self-serving nonsense. The effect will be the opposite,” Farmer wrote.

“The fact that Challengers face the unenviable choice of not going to Saudi in support of moral principle and thereby being excluded from taking part in the Challenger series, or of taking part to remain in the Cup, is itself the outcome of another form of abuse of power.”

The RNZYS declined to comment. Team New Zealand and America’s Cup Event did not respond to requests for comment. American Magic had not responded at time of publication.

Will Mace


Fri, 12 May 2023