Team New Zealand deny reports Dean Barker has been axed as skipper
Team New Zealand say they haven't made any decision about their helmsman for the next America's Cup as suggestions swirl that Dean Barker will be replaced by rising star Peter Burling.
NewstalkZB reported this afternoon that Barker had been replaced by Burling, the world 49er champion who was signed by Team New Zealand in the wake of their last America's Cup defeat in San Francisco in late 2013.
Calls to syndicate boss Grant Dalton went unanswered but a short statement was released and read: "Emirates Team New Zealand, describing media reports this afternoon as inaccurate, said today no decision had been made in relation to helmsman for the America's Cup 2017."
The intrigue continued when an addition to the statement was added shortly afterwards, saying: "The team had been conducting a review across all operations, the sailing team included, with a view to decreasing costs and increasing competitiveness. The review is continuing."
Team New Zealand have been in lock-down mode around the America's Cup as they try to secure their future with private and public funding for the next Cup, which will be sailed in Bermuda in 2017.
Their quest to secure the America's Cup qualifying series – essentially the old Louis Vuitton Cup – for Auckland in the leadup to the Cup final appears to have been successful. Government support is likely to come with that.
America's Cup bosses in the United States say that decision will be announced in early March with the February 15 deadline passing with no announcement.
Replacing Barker, 42, would not be a surprise, though the gamble would be pitching Burling's undoubted brilliance against the former's experience.
There could still be a role for Barker as a mentor and training partner for Burling if he takes the helm, and possibly a crew position in a tactical role, though space on the new 62-foot America's Cup vessel has been squeezed with crews reduced from 11 to eight since the last regatta.
Barker has been involved with Team New Zealand since 1995 though he had no official involvement in the successful challenge that brought the Cup back to Auckland. He went on to helm the last race in the 5-0 sweep of Prada in the city of sails in 2000, however, was also in charge when Swiss challenger Alinghi embarrassed New Zealand 5-0 in on the same waters three years later.
He was retained as the skipper when Dalton saved the syndicate and pushed on to challenge for the 2007 America's Cup in Valencia. Team New Zealand lost that final 5-2 to Alinghi.
Barker survived again to lead the team into the America's Cup final against Oracle in San Francisco which was eventually lost 9-8 with the Kiwis failing to close out an 8-1 lead.
Burling is clearly a rare talent. Since claiming silver at the London Olympics he and partner Blair Tuke have been unstoppable in the 49er class, winning two world titles and a multitude of other international regattas in the class.
Burling showed his class when he stepped into the single-handed foiling Moths class last month and won the world championship in Melbourne, beating Barker in the process.
Team New Zealand have also signed Tuke and his partnership with Burling could be irresistible given their close understanding.