Auckland has been removed as a stopover city from the next edition of The Ocean Race, a move labelled a "slap in the face" of fans.
The course for the 14th edition of The Ocean Race - formerly the Volvo Ocean Race - has been updated and competitors will no longer sail to Auckland due to New Zealand's ongoing Covid-19 restrictions.
Auckland has been a stopover city in all but three of the previous editions of the round-the-world event, raced every three years, including the last time it was held in 2017-18.
But after initially being set to once again host the fleet in 2023, race organisers have instead opted to bypass New Zealand in favour of a marathon leg across the Southern Ocean from South Africa to Brazil.
"We believe the 12,750 nautical mile leg from Cape Town to Itajai is a very special element - unique in history - in the next race," said race managing director Johan Salen. "The ongoing and unpredictable effects of Covid have meant it is impossible, at this time, to do the planning necessary to ensure successful stops in China and New Zealand."
But Mayo & Calder, organisers of the Auckland stopover, said they had been informed of the decision less than 24 hours ago, and as the event was still 17 months away any concerns from race officials were unjustified.
"Preparations for the Auckland stopover are well advanced and we have been working with our investment partners in the New Zealand Government and Auckland Council agencies to ensure all appropriate contingencies are in place to allow a successful stopover in 2023," Mayo & Calder said in a statement.
"This has been communicated repeatedly to race organisers, with no requests made or assurances sought with regard to New Zealand's Covid-19 response over this time.
"The Auckland stopover is at the heart of The Ocean Race and is its spiritual home. For almost 50 years Kiwis have given the race and teams a welcome like no other and it would be a slap in the face of supporters around the world if race organisers don't resolve this situation appropriately.
"In conjunction with our legal advisors and with the support of our investment partners we are now focused on working with the race organiser to achieve a satisfactory resolution to this disappointing situation."
The Ocean Race chairman Richard Brisius said New Zealand remained important to the future of the race and organisers would plan to return to Auckland in subsequent editions.
"We consider Auckland to be a spiritual home for this event, with legends like Sir Peter Blake, Grant Dalton, Ross Field and Mike Sanderson, to name just a few among so many of the amazing Kiwis who have taken on this challenge," he said. "Their legacy is woven into the fabric of The Ocean Race."