Sailing: Luna Rossa opposed to delaying Challenger Series final

(Reuters) - America's Cup hopefuls Luna Rossa have called on organisers to proceed with the remainder of the Challenger Series final and said racing should continue "behind closed doors" if Auckland remains under strict COVID-19 restrictions.

Luna Rossa holds a 4-0 lead over INEOS Team UK, needing three more wins to earn the right to face defenders Team New Zealand in the America's Cup starting on March 6.

The Challenger Series was supposed to continue on Wednesday but organisers postponed the races after New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced a three-day lockdown in Auckland.

A decision is expected on Wednesday over whether the restrictions are to be eased.

In a statement, America's Cup Event Limited (ACE) said it intended to push the racing programme by a week should Auckland remain under strict COVID-19 restrictions.

"If the alert level remains at 3 or 2, racing and event activations would need to be rescheduled to recommence the (Challenger Series) final on Friday Feb. 26," it said.

It added that the first race of the America's Cup would then have to be pushed by a week to March 13 but that racing would still be completed by March 21.

However, Luna Rossa said in a statement that the Challenger Series final against INEOS should resume on Friday and the title should be awarded to the winner or points leader by Feb. 24.

The Italians said a level-3 management plan should be immediately activated to stage races behind closed doors.

INEOS said they supported ACE's call to delay the remainder of the series.

"The solution put forward by ACE is sensible in ensuring both the safety of all in New Zealand, and the integrity of the sporting competition," Team UK said.

(Reporting by Hardik Vyas in Bengaluru; Editing by Peter Rutherford)

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