Grant Dalton defends the taxpayer millions

Last updated 13:00 05/05/2011
Cup quest: Team New Zealand managing director Grant Dalton during his visit to Nelson.

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Grant Dalton doesn't expect some people to understand why he accepted $36 million of taxpayers' money for the 2013 America's Cup, but for him, it was a simple decision.

Dalton, the head of Emirates Team New Zealand, has taken flak in recent weeks after it was revealed the team has been given the money from the Government to fund its campaign to try to win back sailing's greatest prize.

The deal was made with the previous Labour-led government and National has backed the plan, despite many saying the money could be better spent, especially after the Pike River mine disaster and Christchurch earthquake.

Dalton, in Nelson this week to speak to the sailing community as part of a nationwide tour, said the millions made up less than 20 per cent of their income, but without it, they could not operate.

"To a certain extent I can't defend it and say `yeah, it would have been better off here or whatever', because I could never understand what those people have gone through.

"But one thing I know is that if I hadn't gone ahead with it, my first conversation would have been with the first 100 people that work for me as they would have been made redundant.

"My second conversation would have been with the boatyard that makes our boats.

"He would have had to make about half his staff redundant. He's got 45.

"The next conversation would have been with the spar maker, and so on and so on.

"I chose the one that wasn't making people redundant. We're the arrowhead of the industry, and it's a big industry, I think it's New Zealand's second biggest export industry.

"I can't expect the people of Greymouth, Nelson and Christchurch to understand that, I wouldn't, but the Government understood it and made a tough decision."

Dalton said America's Cup sailing was often perceived as a "rich boys" sport, which was true elsewhere, but in New Zealand the way they operated had not changed, despite the increasing budgets.

While work was progressing well on the campaign, which would feature 22m catamarans, the next challenge was its entry in the Volvo Ocean Race, which begins in Spain in October.

The crew is skippered by Australian Chris Nicholson.

The last time New Zealand had a start was 1993-94, when Dalton skippered Endeavour to victory in the Whitbread Round the World Race.

Dalton said that before the "craziness" of the America's Cup, New Zealand had a real attachment to round-the-world racing, and he was keen for that to return. "The adventure has never changed, the Southern Ocean is still really cold and really wet, and you've got to have your act together."

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One Nelsonian, Daryl Wislang, would be aboard the boat, named Camper, as a bowman, and was also involved with sail design.

Dalton said it was hard to judge the support for Team NZ as he only tended to hear the positive comments, but admitted the sport's reputation had taken a hit in the past couple of years with the courtroom battles between Alinghi and Oracle.

For the 34th America's Cup in San Francisco, all teams had signed away their rights to go to court.

He was hopeful of success, but years on the ocean had taught him to take nothing for granted.

"We are putting all the pieces in place to give us a very good chance, but sometimes people put them in place better."

- The Nelson Mail


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