Grant Dalton has fired back at Luna Rossa after two of the five courses for next year's America's Cup were ruled out by the arbitration panel – with the Team New Zealand boss even suggesting the Challenger of Record is "misleading the New Zealand public".
The typically confused and bitter America's Cup spat started yesterday when Team NZ kicked off the war of words by tweeting an attack on Luna Rossa, claiming the Italians were "destroying" the public's ability to view the regatta early next year in the B and C courses of the initial concept for the 36th edition of the event.
TNZ claimed they were "outraged that after three years of planning a land-based stadium event", the Italian challengers had wrecked the concept. They accused Luna Rossa of conducting a "campaign through the arbitration panel".
However, Luna Rossa's Brad Butterworth – who was hired as an external and institutional relations officer role to help facilitate communication with the hosts – hit back, saying TNZ had been "caught out" by the arbitration panel.
Butterworth, a Kiwi yachting legend and four-time America's Cup winner, claims the challengers discovered they would not have access to the B and C courses during the challengers' Prada Cup, handing a tactical advantage to the home team defenders. He says the British and American teams backed the Italian position.
Speaking to Newstalk ZB's Mike Hosking this morning, Dalton countered Luna Rossa's claims and said a deal was reached back in February around the two courses.
"There was a deal done in February this year where they knew through the Ports of Auckland and through the harbour master, as we both did, that they wouldn't [get access to the courses] through that period of time and they agreed," Dalton said.
"That's been verified by the council in their statement overnight. It's a little bit too late now to try and start to relitigate or rewrite history."
Auckland Tourism, Events and Economic Development boss Nick Hill, who is the Independent Chair of the AC36 Joint Chief Executive Group, backed up Dalton's claims in a statement to NZME.
"We've been clear that the parties need to work together to resolve these issues as quickly as possible," Hill said.
"The uses of the courses and the parameters around their use were agreed to by all of the agencies, including the Challenger of Record representative and the Defender in February.
"We expect to see an event where Aucklanders and visitors can share in the experience, an event that will showcase Auckland to the world, and we will work with the parties to help achieve that outcome."
Dalton admits that the arbitration panel's decision was fair but insisted that the issue shouldn't have gone to the panel because a deal was reached with Luna Rossa earlier this year.
"There's a rule in there that you must have equal access for the challengers and the defender, which is fair enough. But there's also [a rule] that allows the Challenger of Record and ourselves to make an arrangement between ourselves.
"And by agreeing in February, as has been said by Auckland City and correctly, that the letter tabled by the Ports of Auckland and agreed by ourselves, Luna Rossa and the harbour master, that they would not have access during that period of time.
"There's really no advantage to them either way. That's it. So to try and relitigate and try and rewrite history now is a little bit rich."
Dalton even went as far to suggest the Italians were misleading both the New Zealand public and the arbitration panel.
"Look, to be fair, they (Luna Rossa) cleaned out their staff in March – they had a big change of staff – and if I was to be charitable, possibly that message wasn't passed on that they had already agreed. If I was not to be charitable, I would say the COR (Challenger of Record) is misleading the New Zealand public and misled the arbitration panel.
"To be fair to Brad, and I know him pretty well, he's two weeks in the job and as I say, COR basically sacked all their management in March and restarted again. It's quite possible that he didn't know this deal had been done and had been agreed.
"The statement overnight by the city is quite clear evidence that they were aware that a deal was done and arranged because the Ports of Auckland and the harbour master wanted it to be this way. We have no problem with it, we agreed with it, we were represented in that meeting, the Challenger of Record Luna Rossa was represented in that meeting and they agreed at that time."
Dalton said TNZ will do everything they can to rectify the situation so that the New Zealand public's ability to experience of the event won't be compromised.
"We as the defender would absolutely move heaven and earth to change this. It's a tragedy at the moment that the Challenger of Record through Luna Rossa has been able to destroy the ability for the public to watch from the vantage point.
"And more particularly, this has always been our vision to have this and to showcase Auckland and New Zealand to the world on TV. So this organisation will move heaven and earth and already is talking to the council, ports of Auckland, the harbour master to see if we can change this.
"But there's no right of appeal. It'll have to be an agreement reached with Luna Rossa the Challenger of Record."
Butterworth told NZME yesterday that he hopes a negotiation can bring the two courses back into play, but communication with TNZ was difficult.
"It's very hard to get to the top echelon and to talk them on any given day," Butterworth said.
"We've got a representative from the Luna Rossa team, they don't even talk to them about the running of the event.
"The relationship's not great, that's obvious to everybody. But let's try and fix that and come up with a solution because it is a yacht race at the end of the day."
A fired up Dalton capped off his case by summing up his team's frosty relationship with Luna Rossa.
"We don't love each other. There's no doubt about that. It's pretty obvious. But this is not about that. This is about us making this right because they have gone to make it the way it is in bad faith because it was already agreed in February.
"We will do whatever we got to do, whatever that is, to make this right because for us the access to the courses is not that important. [It's for] the New Zealand public being able to watch from the beach with a picnic on a summer's day.
"I've already had emails come in overnight. I saw one from Greymouth, a guy and family saying 'we were coming to Auckland to watch, but now we won't come'. That's a tragedy and we will fix this."