A big weekend is kicking off here in Auckland and the city is buzzing. Today, (Saturday) sees the cricket World Cup showdown between Australia and New Zealand while on the water the Volvo Ocean Race fleet are due in anytime from this evening onwards as they finish the leg 4 from China. After 5,000 miles the pack has been reshuffled in the light breezes and race has re-started with just 45 miles from front to the back of the fleet making this a nail biting finish for all.
But there’s more.
The One Ton Cup Revisited regatta, hosted by the Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron gets under way today with some beautifully restored classic racers crewed by some of New Zealand’s biggest sailing names. Further along the Auckland shoreline the Sail Auckland Olympic classes regatta is also taking place while a classic yacht regatta continues to get into the swing of its event schedule.
But despite such activity afloat and ashore, it is the breakdown between Dean Barker and Team New Zealand, the team he has worked with for 20 years, that continues to dominate the media. Yesterday, (Friday) the dispute even displaced the Cricket World Cup on the front page of the New Zealand Herald.
The country, it seems, is outraged at the way in which its long serving skipper is being squeezed out of the team after a recent leak disclosed that the team was looking at replace Barker with Olympic silver medalist and Moth world champion Peter Burling as skipper. Barker’s new role, according to team boss Grant Dalton, would be as coach, a position Barker says he has no interest in.
But the divisions go far deeper than just a team re-shuffle, some Kiwi commentators are suggesting that this could be the beginning of a major breakdown for the team. The problem is between Barker and Dalton.
Shortly after the Kiwi’s humiliating defeat in San Francisco in September 2013, Barker went public on how he disagreed with various aspects of the management of the campaign including Dalton’s call for a lay day during the America’s Cup, a decision which Barker believes contributed to their ultimate loss from an otherwise commanding position. From there, the spat festered, exposing the long term friction in a difficult relationship between the two.
It is said that there was a move behind the scenes to have Dalton ousted from Team New Zealand following the Cup calamity and that this latest pubic disagreement is the result of an incensed Dalton fighting back.
Some see the saga as being an unfortunate bi-product of some essential re-structuring within the team, bringing in fresh new talent in the form of Burling and his 49er crew Blair Tuke, while handing more responsibility to the team’s former wing trimmer Glenn Ashby as sailing team director. It is this latter role that Barker says he wants and not the one that has been offered to him of sailing coach.
But whatever the reasons and rationale behind the re-shaping of one of the most famous pro sailing teams in the world, it is the manner in which Barker has been dealt the news that has so upset the public. That, and the undignified potential breakdown of a team that is funded by public money.
How much further and deeper the debacle will go remains to be seen. As Barker fights to keep a senior role in the team others are calling for Dalton to be removed.
But Saturday morning’s papers saw yet more analysis of the head to head. A personal battle between two of New Zealand’s biggest names that not even an impressive list of global and local sporting events seems able to deflect.
Aside from the further humiliation, it’s particularly sad for a team that set the agenda for the last America’s Cup and has done more than any other to launch high performance sailing into the new world of foils.