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European challengers speak out in support of America's Cup following upheaval

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SAN DIEGO — Four European teams intending to challenge for the America's Cup released a statement Friday supporting the event following the withdrawal of an Australian syndicate that was serving as Challenger of Record.

The statement was released by Britain's Ben Ainslie Racing, Sweden's Artemis Racing, Italy's Luna Rossa Challenge and Team France.

Conspicuous by its absence was Team New Zealand, which lost last year's America's Cup match to Oracle Team USA after leading 8-1. The Kiwis have said they intend to enter the next America's Cup. Team officials didn't respond to emails seeking comment.

The statement said the four challengers "confirm their full support to the event" regardless of the venue.

After eliminating a return to San Francisco, America's Cup officials have narrowed the venue competition to San Diego or Bermuda. A decision is expected in the fall.

"I think it was really just in the wake of Hamilton Island standing down, for us as challengers to say, look, we still really support and believe in this event and are excited about the future," Ainslie told The Associated Press by phone from England. Ainslie, the most decorated Olympic sailor in history, had a key role in Oracle Team USA's 9-8 victory over the Kiwis on San Francisco Bay. He's now hoping to become the first Englishman to win the oldest trophy in international sports.

Australia's Hamilton Island Yacht Club withdrew as Challenger of Record last week, citing the cost of the next America's Cup.

There has also been consternation among the challengers about the America's Cup being pulled out of San Francisco.

Iain Percy, head of Artemis Challenge, said the next America's Cup will be "a brilliant event."

"Sometimes we don't do justice by concentrating on all the politics and negativity. We need to just get on with it a bit," Percy told the AP by phone.

The statement said the challengers "look forward to establish a constant dialogue with the Defender Oracle Team USA" and "to cooperate actively with the Defender to adapt the rules where need be."

Percy said Artemis has been consistent in not agreeing with Oracle's idea of a split venue, in which the first rounds of the challenger elimination series would be held in one port and the final stages, including the challenger semifinals, finals and America's Cup match, would be held in another venue.

The split venue concept might be moot if four or fewer challengers enter by the Aug. 8 deadline.

"We've always said that's not something we particularly agree with," Percy said. "It's not stopping us from entering but it's something we don't particularly like."

According to minutes of a recent challengers meetings obtained by the AP, it was a "universal concern" that Bermuda "is not a great venue," and "all challengers feel that San Francisco is the right location for the finals and match."

"San Francisco is obviously one of the best sailing venues in terms of wind and conditions and spectators," Percy said from his team's base in Alameda, across the bay from San Francisco. "It's very hard for all teams to turn away and accept that it just wasn't working from a commercial standpoint. But it has to pay for itself for the long term and for the short term. Frankly, it's just the way it is."

Percy said it would be bad if the wind in Bermuda or San Diego wasn't strong enough for the 62-foot, wing sail catamarans to consistently rise up on hydrofoils and skim across the waves.

"The other venues are not as good in terms of as sailing conditions as San Francisco. There's nothing controversial about saying that," said Percy, who added that teams have received updated wind data about Bermuda and San Diego.

Percy said the second-generation catamarans "will provide entertainment. Will it be quite as spectacular as watching from the shore of Alcatraz? Probably not. That does not mean that it won't be probably the best, most entertaining sport that will be on in 2017."

It's believed that Luna Rossa and Artemis are the only challengers to submit entries so far, and that the Italians would be in line to become Challenger of Record, which represents all foreign syndicates in dealing with the defending champion.

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