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Sailing Team Sues Over 'Race' Discrimination

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Who is the African Diaspora Maritime sailing team, and why is it suing to delay the America's Cup finals, scheduled to begin Sept. 7?

Charles Kithcart, the head of the North Carolina-based team, declined in a phone interview Tuesday to say whether he'd actually want the finals delayed.

"We want to participate," he said. "This country is based on the underdog standing up and being counted. ... I want justice."

Kithcart founded the nonprofit firm in 1994 to train young African Americans to be competitive sailors. Late in 2011 it sued San Francisco's Golden Gate Yacht Club on the grounds that the club, host of this year's regatta, did not act in good faith when it rejected the group's application earlier that year.

Now the group is seeking an injunction against the America's Cup. The two sides will meet Wednesday with a New York judge, who will decide if there will be a hearing.

Philip Bowman, an attorney for the yacht club, said "There is no merit" to the lawsuit. "Golden Gate Yacht Club (along with Oracle Team USA) looks forward to defending its title in September," he said.

It's probably in keeping with what many observers consider to be the farcical - at least so far - nature of this year's event that a group is legally battling to be included even though it has no history of America's Cup competition, no boat, no full-time crew and apparently not much money.

Kithcart, 48, a former San Francisco resident, said businesses in North Carolina and in the wider African American community had promised him the resources it would take to run a Cup team. He said the GGYC wouldn't let him prove his claims.

"You're allowed to create industry in America," he said. "We're looking for redress for a wrong. We thought we put together a viable entity."

New York attorney Andrew Kratenstein, whose firm represents Kithcart's organization, claims it could have mobilized more than $100 million in support from wealthy African Americans anxious to get involved in a highly exclusive sport.

"It's a sport dominated by billionaires - and let's face it, white billionaires," Kratenstein said.

It may sound far-fetched, but Kithcart sought to race against Oracle Team USA, which won the last Cup in 2010, with the winner earning the right to host the 2013 regatta in San Francisco. According to Kratenstein, the Golden Gate Yacht Club opened up the possibility of just such an American competition - a "Defender's Series" - when it set up the protocol for the event. No other potential defender was accepted.

According to Bowman, the yacht club "had the right to reject candidates that it did not believe had a reasonable chance of winning a Defender's Series, and on that basis appropriately rejected African Diaspora Maritime's application."

A New York court initially dismissed the suit, but a state appellate court reinstated the breach-of-contract claim last month and sent the case back to the trial court.

In a statement, Kithcart's group said, "It is well known that America's Cup teams do not obtain their funding until after their applications are accepted."

That statement ignores the fact that three of this year's teams - Oracle, Luna Rossa Challenge and Artemis Racing - are backed by billionaires and had their funding well ahead of the regatta. The fourth team, Emirates Team New Zealand, is backed by 105 companies, including several major sponsors, and receives $36 million from the New Zealand government, according to a team spokesman.

(Source: Google News: San Francisco Chronicle. View the original story here.)

Photo provided courtesy of the America's Cup.

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