America’s Cup row: Challenger contractor sparked contentious race course decision

A contractor for the America’s Cup challenger organisation was behind the decision to limit access to some of the best viewed race courses, which sparked an angry spat between the challengers and Team New Zealand.

The Italian Challenger of Record said it found out only in September about the February decision to make the prime inner harbour courses unavailable for some races, meaning spectators on the shore would miss out on the action.

However, in tracing the timeline of decisions, Stuff has been told it was Grant Calder, of event management firm Mayo and Calder – then a contractor to both Team NZ’s event arm ACE, and the Italian challenger organisation, (COR) which first raised the idea in late 2019.

The restriction on courses for certain race days has now been lifted, but not before the first angry public exchanges between defender Team New Zealand and the Italians, who said the change was hidden from them.

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Team New Zealand’s chief executive Grant Dalton had accused the Italians of “paranoia” and of trying to hurt the event, after the challengers successfully went to the sport’s Arbitration Panel.

The panel ruled that if there was not unlimited access to all five race courses, prime viewing courses B and C could not be used at any point from December to March 2021.

Cup veteran Brad Butterworth, who is working for the Challenger of Record, represented by Luna Rossa, claimed Team New Zealand had been “caught out” making a change without the challengers’ knowledge.

In December 2019, records seen by Stuff show Calder floated the idea of restrictions after Ports of Auckland raised concerns keeping all five courses for all racing and reserve days, would disrupt commercial shipping.

Principals of event firm Mayo and Calder: Grant Calder (left) and Tom Mayo.

Supplied

Principals of event firm Mayo and Calder: Grant Calder (left) and Tom Mayo.

At that time, no firm race dates had been set for the Prada Cup challenger series, and a record number of cruise ship visits were forecast for the summer of 2020-21.

Records seen by Stuff show Calder proposed two options for race course use, one of which involved blocking-off courses B and C through the challenger round robins and semi-finals.

Ports of Auckland confirmed to Calder the restricted option was its preference, and it was put to a January 30 meeting of interested parties.

Minutes of the meeting show Ports of Auckland tabled a letter “expressing their concerns”, but the minutes do not mention the previous discussion with Calder, which resulted in the letter.

Team New Zealand are squeezing everything they can out of Te Aihe ahead of the launch of their second AC75.

EMIRATES TEAM NZ/Supplied

Team New Zealand are squeezing everything they can out of Te Aihe ahead of the launch of their second AC75.

The Challenger of Record (COR), acknowledged the role of Mayo and Calder but said Calder did not have authority to speak on its behalf.

“To adopt such a provision would have needed a change of Protocol, with the agreement of both the Defender and the Challenger of Record which, as you know, never happened,” it added.

Team New Zealand described Mayo & Calder’s roles as “being responsible for all discussions with on water authorities at that time, on behalf of ACE and COR”.

Ports of Auckland reconsidered the restriction on the courses in the light of the absence of any cruise ship trade, and withdrew the limitation, re-instating the prime viewing courses, and ending the row.

Italian America's Cup challengers Luna Rossa sailing in Auckland.

LUNA ROSSA PRADA PIRELLI/Supplied

Italian America’s Cup challengers Luna Rossa sailing in Auckland.

Mayo and Calder was sacked by Team New Zealand in June after making allegations to the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) about event finances, which were later disproved.

The firm and Team New Zealand have lodged law suits against each other in the High Court.

Stuff understands the firm subsequently lost the parallel contract with COR, which at one point said the relationship was “under review”, and later would not comment further.

Stuff attempted to contact Calder for comment but had no response.

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