30 Mar 2015

Future unclear amid yachting arm wrestle

5:23 am on 30 March 2015

The future of Team New Zealand hangs in the balance following a sudden split between the big and small challengers for the America's Cup, and the event organisers.

Team New Zealand about to start the final race of the 2013 America's Cup.

Team New Zealand about to start the final race of the 2013 America's Cup in San Francisco. Photo: AFP / Getty Images

Cup organisers are reported to have cancelled a conditional agreement for Auckland to host a challenger regatta - a move the Government says could end its plans to sponsor the team.

The America's Cup Event Authority wants to change the rules for the 2017 Bermuda regatta, scrapping the agreed 62 foot catamaran in favour of a smaller, cheaper version.

The two biggest challengers - Team New Zealand and Italy's Luna Rossa - oppose the move, and Team New Zealand's Grant Dalton says the move to scrap the Auckland regatta is a "ploy".

Luna Rossa says it will withdraw from the cup if the move goes ahead without unanimous agreement by the six teams.

Team New Zealand is still trying to conclude a sponsorship agreement with the Government, and that depends on Auckland hosting a qualifying regatta.

"We just do not believe we'll get that sort of leverage, to make it worth New Zealand's while from an economic perspective, if it's solely in Bermuda," said Economic Development Minister Steven Joyce.

The America's Cup teams will vote mid-week on the organiser's proposal to switch to a smaller boat for 2017.

Emirates Team New Zealand boss Grant Dalton

Emirates Team New Zealand boss Grant Dalton Photo: Photosport

Both Team New Zealand and the America's Cup Event Authority declined to be interviewed.

In a video statement, Grant Dalton said there would be two choices given to teams.

"The proposal was to go down to AC45s, a smaller, much smaller boat, same as this, and lose Auckland as a qualifier. That was the chip that was played to convince other teams," he said.

"Or, stay with the [AC]62 and come to Auckland as the qualifier, as agreed, as signed-up at this point, subject to us agreeing the final host agreement, which we now have."

Three of the smaller challengers, Artemis, BAR and Team France, support the move to smaller boats, and are believed to be unhappy with the cost and time involved in travelling to Auckland for the qualifying regatta.

The current AC62 boat was already a cost-cutting measure compared with the 72 foot catamarans which raced in San Francisco in 2013. They are cheaper to build and need a crew of eight, three fewer than last time.

Teams have been working on their designs since the AC62 rules were agreed in June last year.

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