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America’s Cup drama heats up

As the chase for the America’s Cup continues in San Francisco Bay, the buildup of bad news could make for an ugly finish to the fabled yacht regatta.

On the heels of troubles from a series plagued by soaring boat costs, a scarcity of challengers, a crash that killed a crew member, intense rules disagreements and one-sided races comes … a cheating scandal.

“You can’t actually get to any other point than the fact they were cheating,’’ Emirates Team New Zealand managing director Grant Dalton told the San Francisco Chronicle. “I think it’s really serious.’’

Dalton’s accusation is aimed squarely at Oracle Team USA, the defender in the America’s Cup, led by sail racing legend Russell Coutts.

Having already admitted rules violations during the America’s Cup World Series, a warm-up to this year’s regatta, the team has been described by a Cup committee as having made “an intentional effort’’ to circumvent the rules.

Bob Fisher, a sailing expert and America’s Cup historian, told the Chronicle that Oracle could wind up forfeiting one or more race wins in the best-of-17 America’s Cup finals —or thrown out of the regatta altogether.

“It depends on how strongly the jury feels about it,” Fisher said.

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