Team New Zealand is seeking advice on the commercial landscape for the next America's Cup as speculation swirls that the competition is being "shopped around" to overseas venues.
A well-placed source told the Herald on Sunday they understood Italian billionaire and businessman Matteo de Nora - the principal and long-time advocate of Team NZ - had been involved in considering potential venues outside this country for the next event.
Qatar was tipped as one option while other possible locations included elsewhere in the Middle East, parts of Europe, and Singapore and China.
"This is disloyal," the source said. "I think most New Zealanders would be upset. They are expected to cheer for New Zealand to win only to find out the whole country could be shafted because they [Team NZ] could collect money from somewhere else," he said.
Successive governments have previously helped bankroll Team NZ campaigns, based partly on the potential tourism bonanza a New Zealand defence generates.
De Nora could not be reached for comment. In a statement to written questions from the Herald on Sunday, Emirates Team New Zealand CEO Grant Dalton said: "As a team, Emirates Team NZ has only ever existed and evolved to bring the America's Cup back to New Zealand to host.
"Due to Covid-19, the world is clearly a different place to what it was after the last America's Cup in terms of staging of major sporting events as well as the entire commercial sponsorship market.
"So as the current defender of the America's Cup, Emirates Team NZ has engaged an agency to research and assess the wider commercial environment globally and domestically to provide a future overview for the event and the team upon the completion of this 36th edition.
"Of course, our total focus at this time is on the defence of the 36th America's Cup against what will ultimately be a formidable opponent. And any level of assumption on what the next level holds is premature given we haven't won this event yet."
That opponent - either Prada Luna Rossa or Ineos Team UK - will face off against the Kiwi team next month for the America's Cup.
A spokesperson for the Ministry of Business Innovation and Employment said they were not aware of any discussions between Team NZ and other venues.
Tom Ehman, the former Vice Commodore of the Golden Gate Yacht club, and CEO of the Sailing Illustrated website, said he had heard rumours for months that the next cup event was being "shopped around".
"This is not a secret, it's been talked about in the sailing community for a couple of months and I put it out there on my show and no one pushed back, in fact, more people confirmed it. I knew about Qatar, Dubai, Bahrain and Malta, and Spain.
"To shop it offshore is ridiculous and absurd. I can't believe your government and the business community in Auckland would allow this to happen."
The seasoned international sailor who has been involved with the America's Cup since 1980 said it wasn't up to Team NZ to "shop around".
"It's up to the Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron (RNZYS), they are the trustees, not the team. It's not up to Emirates Team NZ, it's not up to Mr Dalton, who I have known for many years and have tremendous respect for," Ehman said.
"I can't believe they are serious about using this as a bargaining chip because the RNZYS is the trustee and the defender - it's up to them to choose the venue."
Apart from two exceptions, the Cup has always been sailed in the defender's country.
In 2007, the America's Cup was held in Valencia because Switzerland is land-locked. Ten years later the American team Oracle staged the event in Bermuda.
Ehman resigned as Vice Commodore of the Golden Gate Yacht Club in San Francisco based on that decision.
"When Larry (Ellison) and Russell (Coutts) started shopping it around and it went offshore to Bermuda they got financial support but not local support. So, I quit.
"We are an American club and we have to defend it in our country. When they said 'no, the club is going to shop it in Bermuda', I said 'count me out' and resigned," Ehman said.
Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron Commodore Aaron Young said he was also aware of the rumours about the overseas venues for the next Cup.
Young said it was "normal" that various venues were being touted to host the next America's Cup but stressed it was important to retain it first.
"The first and only objective at this stage is to win the America's Cup because unless you do, everything [else] is a little bit irrelevant."
Young initially told the Herald on Sunday that the RNZYS would ultimately decide where the next America's Cup would take place, but later clarified in a statement that Team NZ would also be involved.
"Any decision around future America's Cup events or regattas will obviously be taken in collaboration between ETNZ and RNZYS," he said.
Young's personal preference was for the sailing to remain in the country that wins the Cup and said it was in the host's venue agreement that Team NZ had an "exclusive negotiation" period in New Zealand.
Leading sailing pundit Magnus Wheatley recently predicted that the next Cup would be in the Middle East.
"With Covid still present, and the costs coming under intense scrutiny in government, a decision will be made to put the next venue out to tender and will attract a big money bid from Abu Dhabi backed by Dubai," the British sailing writer said.
"The Cup will go to the Middle East in 2025. Money doesn't talk, it screams."
Both Wheatley and Ehman are backing Team NZ to win the Auld Mug.
"The odds are Team NZ is the favourite - they have got what appears to be the best boat, the youngest, strongest, best sailing team," Ehman said.
"Every time a defender wins it brings it back to a home advantage, they set the rules and have all the home support – I suspect for all those reasons ETNZ is set to win."