Team New Zealand's moves to elevate Peter Burling to helmsman over long-serving skipper Dean Barker is natural selection at work.

Most in the yachting community will see the brilliant Burling's promotion as a positive move for the Kiwi syndicate, but that doesn't alter the fact that the team have made a giant mis-step in their handling of the transition.

Ever since former skipper Russell Coutts ceded his place at the helm for the final race of Team NZ's successful defence of the 2000 America's Cup, Barker has been at the wheel of the black boat.

MORE: 'Barker's time was limited'


For 15 years he has been the face of the syndicate; he stuck with the team in the tumultuous years following the disastrous 2003 campaign and again after 2007, when years of court battles between Alinghi and Oracle left Team NZ's sailors ripe for the picking by well-moneyed syndicates.

After three failed campaigns Barker's time was up, but he deserved better than the news to be leaked in the way it was, without a chance to prepare himself for the inevitable storm that would ensue.

The news was leaked by an official source high up in the organisation, yet when the information was broadcast, setting off a tidal wave of media inquiries, Team NZ's response was to issue a hasty statement and batten down the hatches.

"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," the statement read.

In other words: "We're not saying it isn't going to happen, it just hasn't happened yet." The proverbial Band-Aid on an axe wound.

Team NZ's motivations for wanting the information in the public arena are obvious: anticipating further backlash after the Government all-but confirmed they will invest in the next America's Cup campaign, the Kiwi syndicate were keen to sell a fresh approach and let the taxpayer know their dollars aren't being sunk into the same people behind the last two failed campaigns.

2000: Rookie Barker in line to seal Kiwi Cup triumph

Burling, who last month upstaged a field of seasoned America's Cup sailors, including Barker, to win the Moth World Championship, is an exciting young talent and will bring a harder, competitive edge to the sailing team. His elevation to the helm was considered inevitable when he was snapped up by Team NZ at the beginning of last year along with his partner in the 49er class, Blair Tuke.


But the ham-fisted handling of the changeover has risked pushing Barker out completely. Considering the intellectual property the skipper has amassed in his 15 years with Team NZ, that would be a disastrous result.

Who is Peter Burling?

Sir Michael Fay - the man behind New Zealand's first America's Cup challenges - once described the cup as the most difficult event to win in world sport. It takes more than a rock-star helmsman to achieve it. They need a man of Barker's experience with a firm hand on the tiller behind the scenes as well.