Concerns about security at the Persian Gulf port picked to host the America's Cup have reached the U.S. Congress.
Noting that the racing will involve American participants, Rep. Edward Royce, R-Calif., sent a letter last week to Daniel Benjamin, the State Department's coordinator for counterterrorism, asking for an assessment of security in Ras al-Khaimah, United Arab Emirates. He also asked what U.S. government resources, if any, will be committed to the event.
The American challenger, BMW Oracle Racing, has raised concerns about RAK due to its proximity to Iran and has asked a New York court to reject it as the venue for the best-of-three showdown against defending champion Alinghi of Switzerland starting Feb. 8.
Royce, the ranking member of the Subcommittee on Terrorism, Nonproliferation and Trade, represents the 40th District in Southern California.
BMW Oracle Racing, owned by software mogul Larry Ellison of Oracle Corp., is backed by San Francisco's Golden Gate Yacht Club and has been testing its 90-foot trimaran in San Diego since last fall.
Royce called RAK "an atypical venue for this contest" and said its location "in a region of high concern for terrorism" raises questions about the event and the roles of the State Department and other U.S. government departments and agencies.
"I am concerned over reports of Ras al-Khaimah's reported growing commercial and political ties with Iran," Royce wrote to Benjamin. "They undermine our efforts to check its nuclear weapons program. Do these ties in any way affect the security of this high-profile competition?"
A copy of the letter was obtained Monday by The Associated Press. Royce's spokesman confirmed he sent the letter but that he was flying back to Washington, D.C., and unavailable for comment.
Royce said in his letter that the State Department plans to provide South Africa with training to counter terrorist threats during next summer's World Cup and has provided security support to countries that have hosted the Olympics.
"Is the Department planning to offer training or other assistance to the United Arab Emirates government?" Royce wrote. "What United States Government resources, if any, will be committed to this event's security?"
Royce's letter "just shows that everyone understands the problem except Alinghi," GGYC spokesman Tom Ehman said. "Obviously, they've got their heads buried in the sand."
Alinghi issued a statement saying: "While we respect the Congressman, the facts show that there is absolutely no basis for the assertion that RAK is an unsafe or otherwise unfit venue for the America's Cup."
Alinghi also pointed out that the UAE has hosted high-profile events such as the Dubai World Cup, the world's richest horse race; the Dubai World Golf Championship featuring Tiger Woods; and the World Tennis Championship featuring Roger Federer.
It also said BMW Oracle Racing is scheduled to compete in the Dubai RC44 Gold Cup next month, a sailing class founded by Russell Coutts, a three-time America's Cup winner who is BMW Oracle Racing's CEO and skipper.
The Americans and Swiss have been locked in a bitter court fight since July 2007.
Golden Gate Yacht Club filed a motion on Oct. 2 asking the New York State Supreme Court -- which has jurisdiction in America's Cup legal spats -- to reject RAK as the venue.
The club cited "grave safety concerns" for its U.S.-based crew that would be sailing a massive trimaran named USA within several miles of Iran.
A hearing has been scheduled for Oct. 27 on the venue issue and ongoing rules squabbles.
Last week, GGYC told Alinghi's backing yacht club, Societe Nautique de Geneve, that it is considering filing a complaint with New York courts on the grounds of breach of fiduciary duty, in part because of the selection of RAK as the venue.