The long-running dispute between Team New Zealand and the America's Cup Events Authority is set to come to a head this week.

The Herald understands Team NZ's protest over the ACEA's backtracking on an agreement awarding Auckland hosting rights for the America's Cup sailing qualifiers will finally be heard by an arbitration panel in London this week.

The protest dates back more than a year when the ACEA made sweeping changes to the design rules and regatta programme for the 35th America's Cup, which saw the qualifier series, originally scheduled for February 2017, withdrawn from Auckland.

But due to blanket confidentiality rules that have since been imposed, neither party is allowed to acknowledge the existence of the dispute.


When asked last month at the launch of the team's new test boat whether the Kiwi syndicate had been notified when the protest would be heard, chief operating officer Kevin Shoebridge responded: "Unfortunately we're in a position now where we can't even comment on arbitration."

The ACEA is similarly tight-lipped, refusing to confirm any details of the hearing.

"The competitors have recently agreed changes to the protocol that are a shift from past practice with regard to information about off-water disputes," a spokesman for the organisation wrote in response to Herald inquiries.

"Under the rules the teams have now agreed, there can not be any comment on these matters from anyone involved in the event, be that the competitors themselves, ACEA, or [America's Cup Race Management]."

At the time the protest was lodged in March last year, Team NZ boss Grant Dalton issued a statement outlining the team's position.

"Emirates Team New Zealand have filed an application to the America's Cup Arbitration Panel in the belief that ACEA has breached their signed agreement and protocol obligations by discarding Auckland.

"Under the original protocol, the qualifier venue was to be announced by the 15th February 2015. This requirement was fulfilled on this date with the announcement to the teams that Auckland would be the location of the qualifiers.

"Among the changes to the protocol voted on, ACEA sought to retrospectively change this date to April and disregard the agreement for Auckland to be the location for the America's Cup qualifier."

Team NZ weren't the only syndicate unhappy with the major rule changes actioned in March last year, 10 months after the original protocol had been set down. Italian team Luna Rossa later withdrew from the 35th America's Cup in protest at the overhaul of the design rule, which saw the America's Cup race boat reduced from a 62ft catamaran to 50ft, without unanimous agreement from the competitors.

The withdrawal of the qualifiers from Auckland effectively ended any hopes Team NZ had of securing government funding for their campaign. The America's Cup qualifiers would have been a huge boost for Auckland as it would have required all six teams set up camp in the city for several months in advance of the 11-day regatta, resulting in a big local spend, and major PR opportunities.

Moving the entire America's Cup racing schedule to Bermuda, an isolated island in the North Atlantic, also proved a turn off for several existing and potential commercial sponsors of Team NZ.

But it is not clear what Team NZ hope to achieve through arbitration.

Given 16 months has lapsed since the protest was filed, and there is just seven months before the regatta was originally scheduled to be held, reinstating the qualifier series in Auckland does not appear a realistic option. The teams have been working to a revised schedule, in which they cannot launch their race boats until after December 27 this year, five months out from the first race of the America's Cup qualifiers.