By Ronnie Cohen
SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - San Francisco's troubled America's Cup sailing regatta was dealt another setback three weeks before the competition starts when organizers said they would refund tickets to watch some challenger races leading up to the finals for the world's oldest sporting trophy.
The announcement by America's Cup officials came late Monday in the wake of last week's decision by Sweden's Artemis Racing to remain in the tournament following a fatal accident last month, even though its boat and crew won't be ready to compete in the initial rounds.
Money for tickets for the opening days of the Louis Vuitton Cup, which is scheduled to start in early July, will be returned, as will seat payments for the subsequent semifinals, organizers said in a press release.
Round robin races are scheduled to begin on July 7. Artemis and two other teams are eager to win the cup from defender Oracle Team USA, backed by software billionaire and Oracle Corp co-founder Larry Ellison.
Artemis has said it might not be able to race until the end of July after losing one of its two boats in an accident that killed Olympic gold medalist Andrew Simpson. Simpson was trapped underwater after the Artemis' 72-foot high-tech catamaran capsized and broke apart in a training run.
"This is the right thing to do for our fans who may be affected in the early rounds, before the racing hits full stride," America's Cup CEO Stephen Barclay said in a statement.
Organizers have adopted improved safety measures in the aftermath of the accident. They also said fewer races for the Louis Vuitton Cup, the winner of which challenges defender Oracle, would allow the teams, including Italy's Luna Rossa Challenge and Emirates Team New Zealand, more time for boat maintenance.
(Reporting by Noel Randewich; Editing by Alden Bentley)