Australia’s hopes of reclaiming the coveted America’s Cup trophy in 2017 are over with financial constraints forcing Team Australia’s withdrawal from sailing’s marquee event.
Hamilton Island Yacht Club, who were challenger of record for the 35th America’s Cup, announced on Saturday they were pulling Team Australia out of the competition.
The decision followed a key meeting in San Francisco last week at which further details of the competition were discussed.
Australia, who famously won the America’s Cup in 1983, have not been in the fray since they last competed in 2000.
But hope was renewed for the next Cup with their first team in over a decade to be skippered by Olympic gold medallist and World Sailor of the Year, Mat Belcher.
Belcher and the talented young crew were informed of the decision during a “sombre” meeting on Friday night.
“We really thought that this was our time and our opportunity – we’re very sad,” Belcher told AAP.
Billionaire wine baron Bob Oatley, Hamilton Island Yacht Club owner and Sydney to Hobart veteran, conceded the mounting costs forced the withdrawal.
“The challenge was initiated with a view to negotiating a format for the 35th America’s Cup that was affordable and put the emphasis back on sailing skills,” he said.
“Ultimately our estimate of the costs of competing were well beyond our initial expectation and our ability to make the formula of our investment and other commercial support add up.
“We are bitterly disappointed that this emerging team of fine young Australian sailors will not be able to compete at the next America’s Cup under our banner.”
As the challenger of record, Team Australia were involved in drafting the protocol for the next competition alongside Oracle Team USA.
Oracle Boss and director of the America’s Cup Event Authority (ACEA) Russell Coutts said he was looking forward to Team Australia’s involvement.
“We are very disappointed to be receiving this news,” Coutts said.
“We were excited to have Australia as a challenger and we were also looking forward to the prospect of holding America’s Cup World Series events in Australia.”
There has been speculation of uneasiness about the direction the regatta was taking, with a venue and date yet to be determined.
Belcher said that uncertainty had made it difficult for Team Australia to attract sponsors.
He did not rule out Australia’s challenge being revived if additional funding is forthcoming.
“If government funding came in or sponsors come in there’s always that possibility,” Belcher said.
“We could do a late entry.”
The big problem for any revived Team Australia challenge however is the prospect other teams may try to snap up their sailors – especially Belcher.
“I want to compete in the America’s Cup, whether that’s this time or next time … it depends on the opportunity,” he added.
Competitor’s met six days ago in Los Angeles to air their concerns, with costs and the elimination of San Francisco as host city high on the list.
Most were reportedly unhappy Bermuda is being considered as host. Bermuda is competing with San Diego for hosting rights.
It wasn’t immediately clear which syndicate will replace Hamilton Island as challenger of record, which represents all foreign syndicates in dealing with Oracle Team USA.