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SailGP: Coutts confident of Bermuda event proceeding if dispensations can be obtained

by Richard Gladwell/Sail-World NZ 14 Apr 21:49 NZST 14 April 2021
SailGP team bases and the SailGP operations facilities have been established on Cross Island adjacent to the historic Royal Dockyard in Bermuda © SailGP

Russell Coutts, CEO of SailGP has told Bermuda Tonight that he is more confident of the first regatta in the 2021 circuit getting underway as scheduled, despite there being only 10 days left until the scheduled start on April 24.

Coutts says the team in Bermuda are following the Bermudian Government health requirements, in regards to social distancing and other COVID containment practices.

The regatta is set to be broadcast to 175 territories, making a strong follow-on for the tourist dependent Atlantic archipelago, from the 2017 America's Cup held using very similar AC50's in the same venue.

Despite over almost 60% of Bermuda's population having had at least one vaccination, and 25% with two and full immunity, a third wave of COVID-19 infection seems to be underway. The concerns of the Bermudian Health authorities centre around the view that the virus is being circulated by local transmission, triggered by a non-observance of social distancing requirements, and despite the high vaccination rate. A seven day lockdown, described locally as "Shelter at Home", began on Tuesday morning local time, with all but specified essential businesses allowed to function. Food shopping is restricted each day to alphabetic groups determined by surname - with only a third of the population being able to shop on a particular day. Other than for 60 minutes a day of exercise within a mile radius of their home, all Bermudians must remain indoors.

The conditions of the lockdown are more severe than the two ordered in Auckland during the Prada and America's Cups.

Some of the eight teams are already in Bermuda, but others are en route, or like the NZ SailGP team are due to leave. There is no prohibition on visitors arriving in Bermuda, however they are required to follow restrictions on arrival including the return of a negative test - which can take up to four days - making a tight schedule even tighter.

Seven of the eight F50's require sea trials to ensure that the extensive off-season modifications are functioning correctly. The eighth boat for the Peter Burling and Blair Tuke led NZ SailGP team is yet to be finished.

Coutts says they need dispensation from the COVID rules, and compares the situation to "asking a Formula 1 drive to jump in a car, that is totally untested, and race it against all the other cars on a F1 track."

"If we can't get the sailing teams on the water, it is time-critical, and in theory we would soon reach a point where, if we can't operate , we would have to cancel the event.

"But I don't think that is going to be the situation. We will find a solution with the Bermudan Government."

In a later comment Coutts said that one outcome was that the teams remained completely separate from the rest of the population on Bermuda, and that the racing would be conducted in a "clean stadium" without spectators as has been been the situation with other international sports events, including the recent Prada and America's Cup.

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