SYDNEY (Reuters) - The first weekend of America's Cup racing between Team New Zealand and Italy's Luna Rossa next week has been postponed because of the latest COVID-19 lockdown in Auckland, organisers said on Sunday.
The first two race days, which were scheduled to take place in Auckland next Saturday and Sunday, have been pushed back "to provide at least some certainty in planning for all event stakeholders," America's Cup Event (ACE) said in a statement.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced on Saturday evening that New Zealand's biggest city would move from Level 1 to the stricter Level 3 conditions for seven days from Sunday morning after a new case of the coronavirus surfaced.
"ACE has always said that it wishes to hold as much of the racing under Level 1 restrictions as possible," said ACE chair Tina Symmans.
"But to be prudent, ACE will apply for an exemption to race under Level 3 restrictions so as to keep as many options open as possible. However, racing will not occur before at least Wednesday 10th March."
Level 3 restrictions allow people to leave home only for essential shopping and work and would prevent any crowds from attending the contest for the oldest trophy in international sport, which began in 1851.
The first weekend of the America's Cup would have featured four races in the best-of-13 series between holders Team New Zealand and challengers Luna Rossa. March 10 was the next scheduled race day.
The statement added that organisers would be in close touch with the authorities about the health situation over the next few days.
"We need to understand all likely scenarios so that an updated racing schedule can be put in place whilst also ensuring the regulatory requirements are met," Symmans said.
New Zealand has been highly successful in keeping the coronavirus pandemic from spreading but the America's Cup Challenger Series final this month was halted when Auckland entered a three-day coronavirus lockdown.
(Reporting by Nick Mulvenney in Sydney, editing by Cynthia Osterman)