30 Jun 2020

Team NZ spying claims a new spin on America's Cup controversies

6:20 pm on 30 June 2020

Not for the first time in its long history, the America's Cup is embroiled in skulduggery and subterfuge.

Team New Zealand base at Auckland viaduct for America's Cup

Team New Zealand's base at the Auckland Viaduct. Photo: RNZ / Dan Cook

Team New Zealand's much-lauded preparations for the competition - in it's 36th year - have hit rough waters following allegations of spying among its ranks.

The Auckland-based team said an informant's claims about its finances and management, which prompted an investigation by the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE), were baseless.

Almost $250 million in taxpayer and ratepayer money has gone into preparing for the 2021 competition.

Team New Zealand managing director Grant Dalton said they first became suspicious just before Christmas.

"Things just weren't adding up in a couple of cases. These things start from small seeds in your mind and since then, we've being trying to piece this all together."

Dalton was asked whether those the team accused of spying were New Zealanders.

"Absolutely. This is within our own organisation," he said.

Sailing commentator, Peter Lester, said New Zealand was "relatively clean" in terms of espionage and spying in sailing, but the America's Cup had a long history of constroversy since it began in 1851.

"Some of it's been of been around spying or gathering of information from other teams, some of it can be a little bit mischievous - just trying to take another team off the ball," he said.

He said this case was different in that it involved a commercial side and the organisation of the event, following an easing of surveillance rules.

Lester expected more controversies to pop up before the competition kicked off.

Auckland Mayor Phil Goff said the allegations were news to him and he could not comment on the specifics.

"This is a sport that is intensely competitive, so everyone's watching what everybody else is doing," Goff said.

Economic development minister Phil Twyford said the allegations would not affect the competition.

He said it was a dispute between the parties and MBIE was working to get to the bottom of it.

MBIE general manager of tourism Iain Cossar said in a statement the Ministry was unable to go into further detail due to commercial sensitivity.