New Zealand sailors to use alternative - and current - flag in testing for Rio Olympics
Yachting New Zealand chief executive David Abercrombie says it is not politicising the national sailing team by flying the alternative flag design on some of their sails ahead of March's flag referendum.
Yachting NZ announced on Monday that some of its sailors will use sails bearing the alternative flag design in testing ahead of the Olympic Games in August while others will use the current flag. It said this was a logistical step to ensure each potential sail they take to Brazil is up to standard. The flag design is applied during the sail building process.
A new set of sails take between six to eight weeks to be delivered and Abercrombie said if they waited until the end of referendum, which goes until March 24, they run the risk of cutting into their preparation time, particularly if any problems were detected.
The potential change in flag has polarised the country but Abercrombie has no fear of being dragged into the debate, saying the use of the alternative design was "purely about performance".
"Primarily, the most important thing for us is to make sure our athletes have everything they could possibly need in order to perform to their maximum ability in Rio," Abercrombie said. "To be fair, I have a view on the flag but I also believe that people are old enough or young enough and ugly enough to make up their own mind about these things and whether we are flying the new flag or the old flag in testing won't actually influence anyone's opinion.
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"There's no political statement at all in regards to this, and I think we'd like to be very clear on that."
At the Olympic sailing regatta in August the 49er, 49erFX, Men's and Women's 470 and the Nacra boats are required to carry their nation's current flag on the spinnaker.
Sailors who have pre-ordered extra sails as a result of the timing of the flag referendum include Jo Aleh and Polly Powrie (Women's 470), Gemma Jones and Jason Saunders (Nacra), Peter Burling and Blair Tuke (49er) and Alex Maloney and Molly Meech (49erFX).
Abercrombie said the cost of a set of spinnakers was about $40,000, which had been covered by High Performance Sport New Zealand and Sport New Zealand.
"If you cut to the chase in terms of where high performance funding comes from from any sport it comes out of High Performance Sport New Zealand," Abercrombie said. "So all this really is additional to the existing budget so I don't see it as a big cost.
"If Sport New Zealand and High Performance Sport want our athletes to perform to their maximum when they're in Rio this is a really important part of it."
Abercrombie was adamant that the move was not a show of support for the alternative flag.
"The organisation will provide a view on something but certainly a flag is not something we would provide a view on unless you polled the members and it's certainly not something I'm about to do."
Yachting NZ had the support of the New Zealand Olympic Committee, with a spokesperson saying it was important the sailors trial their equipment ahead of the Olympics.
Yachting NZ high performance director Jez Fanstone said the decision was all about leaving no stone unturned in the run-in to Rio.
"The flag design is applied during the sail build process, so to ensure we are covering all eventualities the only thing to do has been to order two sets of sails," he added. "One set has the current flag; the second set has the alternative design."
An Olympic campaign required detailed planning across boats and equipment and the possibility of a new flag on their sails was another thing they had to take in account.
Prime Minister John Key was asked on Monday if NZ sailors had received any help with the extra cost of the sails because of the flag situation and he said "not as far as I am aware, no."