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America's Cup teams vote to downsize boats in move that could force out 2 challengers

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SAN DIEGO — America's Cup teams have voted to reduce the size of boats to be sailed in the 2017 regatta in Bermuda, a cost-cutting move that could lead to the two strongest challengers dropping out.

In a statement Tuesday night, organizers said a majority of teams favored the move from 62-foot (19-meter) catamarans to 48-foot (14.65-meter) cats.

They also said a majority of teams supported having the entire race take place in Bermuda, eliminating a qualifying regatta in Auckland, New Zealand — a move that could cost Team New Zealand its primary funding source.

It's believed Italy's Luna Rossa and Emirates Team New Zealand voted against the unprecedented proposal to change the size of the boats in mid-cycle.

Luna Rossa said last week it "will be obliged to withdraw" if the race boat was downsized. Team New Zealand supported the Italians.

On eliminating the Auckland regatta, Emirates Team New Zealand said on its Twitter account that it has filed for arbitration to reinstate the qualifier based on a signed and accepted bid.

"We are fighting to keep Auckland as a qualifier," Team New Zealand general manager Grant Dalton told New Zealand media on Wednesday. "This isn't about government funding, this is not the end of Emirates Team New Zealand, it's about enforcing a contract and bringing America's Cup racing to New Zealand as agreed by ACEA (America's Cup Events Authority)."

New Zealand Prime Minister John Key has said if the Auckland regatta doesn't take place, government funding will likely be withheld. That would make it difficult for Team New Zealand to continue competing since it doesn't have corporate sponsorship.

The decision by two-time defending champion Oracle Team USA to contest the America's Cup in Bermuda rather than in the United States has also made it difficult for some teams and the event itself to raise sponsorship money.

There's some question how much the downsizing of the boats will save considering some teams have already spent several months and tens of millions of dollars designing 62-foot (19-meter) catamarans. As it was, the larger cats were said to be a cost-saving measure over the 72-foot (22-meter) catamarans used in the 2013 America's Cup.

And while smaller boats would mean reduced costs and a smaller crew, they could also mean less excitement for spectators. The 48-foot (14.65 meter) catamarans will be the smallest boats in America's Cup history and aren't that much bigger than other one-design classes sailed in less-prestigious regattas.

If Italy and New Zealand drop out, Oracle Team USA would conceivably have an easier shot at retaining the Auld Mug trophy.

Oracle Team USA rebounded from a cheating scandal and an 8-1 deficit to defeat Emirates Team New Zealand in the 2013 America's Cup, winning eight straight races in one of the biggest comebacks in the event's history.

America's Cup czar Russell Coutts, a New Zealander who heads both Oracle Team USA and the America's Cup Event Authority, has verbally sparred with both the Kiwis and Italians in recent years.

In a landmark victory, Coutts led Team New Zealand to a five-race sweep of American skipper Dennis Conner off San Diego in 1995. He then guided the Kiwis to a sweep of Luna Rossa in the 2000 America's Cup before jumping ship for a bigger paycheck from Alinghi of Switzerland, leading it to a sweep of Team New Zealand.


AP Sports Writer Steve McMorran in Wellington, New Zealand, contributed to this report.


Follow Bernie Wilson on Twitter at http://twitter.com/berniewilson

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