Team New Zealand chairman Keith Turner admits the prospect of axed skipper Dean Barker joining another America's Cup syndicate is worrying for the Kiwi team, and blames the media for the dispute reaching this point.
A disappointed Barker told the Herald he is not ruling out a shift to another America's Cup syndicate after rejecting an offer of a coaching role with Team NZ, effectively ending his 20-year career with the Kiwi syndicate.
The possibility of Barker taking his intellectual property gleaned from those 20 years with the team, the latter part of which he was closely involved with the design operations, to another syndicate will be deeply concerning for Team NZ. Turner suggested had the employment dispute not played out in the media, the team may have been able to retain the services of Barker.
"Dean has some extraordinary experience that we wanted to keep in the team and we do think it's very unfortunate that the media speculation has not helped us to retain him," he said.
"We certainly don't wish him to carry any intellectual property from Team NZ, but in the end he's made a decision that he wants to stay on the water and obviously taken the steps that he has to do so."
But Barker has maintained from the outset he was not interested in the performance manager position the team had offered him.
Following the heart-breaking 9-8 loss to Oracle Team USA in the 2013 America's Cup, Barker re-signed with Team NZ in a sailing director role. But the news the 35th America's Cup will be held in Bermuda forced Team NZ to undergo an extensive restructure late last year to slash some $20 million from their budget.
As a result of the restructure Australian multihull specialist Glenn Ashby, the team's wing trimmer in San Francisco, was given the sailing director role and will serve as back-up helmsman to young sailing star Peter Burling. Having been squeezed out of a position on the boat, Barker was offered a back office role as performance manager/coach.
A disappointed Barker said he believes he still has a lot of value to offer in an on-board role and would be open to offers from other Cup teams.
"I've made it very clear from the very beginning that I want sail, that's what I do I'm a sailor and I want to compete. Unfortunately I can't do that anymore with Team New Zealand. If the opportunity to race with another team arose I would certainly look at it," he said.
"Right now I just need to take some time to think about my future and what's next."
Barker said he did not expect other members of Team NZ to follow him out the door as a result of what has happened.
"I've only ever been one part of the team. I'm not asking or expecting any members of the team to leave as a result of what has happened, I sincerely hope that is not the case," he said.
"All I can do is wish Team NZ all the best and move on."
Team NZ have denied the original source that led to the media reports Barker was to be axed as skipper came from chief executive Grant Dalton or any of the team's management.
"The ETNZ board has conducted an investigation into the cause or source of the 'leak'.
"We are totally satisfied that Grant Dalton was not involved in anyway and he and his management team have our full confidence and backing. No member of the board or management leaked any information," a statement from the team read.
Team New Zealand director and long-time supporter Sir Stephen Tindall paid tribute to Barker, acknowledging the skipper's contribution to the team.
"Dean is an outstanding sportsman I have had the privilege to know personally and professionally. I am pleased that Dean's team mates will have the opportunity to honour him in their own words at a team farewell in a few days' time," he said.
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