WELLINGTON (AFP) – Team New Zealand are replacing Dean Barker (PIC) as America’s Cup skipper, prompting an angry response from the helmsman who said he was ‘gutted’ to have been dumped.
Barker skippered Team New Zealand in 2013 when they lost the final 9-8 against Oracle Team USA in San Francisco after leading 8-1, in what has been described as one of the greatest chokes in sporting history.
Syndicate head Grant Dalton said Barker had been replaced by rising star Peter Burling, 24, a world champion in the Moth and 49er yacht classes.
Barker responded that Team NZ had assured him speculation earlier this month that he was to be dumped was not correct and he was stunned to learn he had been axed.
“I’m absolutely gutted in the way I’ve been treated by Team New Zealand,” he told TV3.
Dalton said that while Burling would lead Team New Zealand for the next America’s Cup series in Bermuda in 2017, Barker had been offered a new role as performance manager.
“We’re hoping to retain Dean’s 20 years of America’s Cup experience in Emirates Team New Zealand,” Dalton said in a statement.
“But we also acknowledge it is time for new blood to be given the chance at the helm of the country’s challenger.”
But Barker scoffed at the suggestion that he was considering the performance manager’s role. “I’m a sailor, I love competing and I love racing,” Barker said.
“This performance coaching role is not a sailing role, it’s a data role, it’s an analysis role, it’s not why I signed up to be part of Team New Zealand,” he said.
New Zealand media reported last week that Barker was considering legal action against the team.
Team New Zealand have been one of the leading contenders in yachting’s most prestigious event in recent decades, winning in 1995 and 2000, and been the beaten finalist in three of the four regattas since.
It was not immediately clear whether Barker’s demotion was linked to government funding for the syndicate.
The New Zealand government poured NZ$36 million ($27 million) into the last America’s Cup campaign and gave Team New Zealand NZ$5 million ($3.75 million) in bridging finance to keep going after the San Francisco loss.
However, there has been vocal criticism in New Zealand about public funds being used to back an elite yachting challenge, particularly after the Barker-led humiliation in San Francisco.