America’s Cup hit by spying claims and team sackings
Team New Zealand dismiss ‘informants’ following leaks Ainslie’s GB challenger team say they were unaware of row
The 36th America’s Cup has been rocked by a spying row, with defenders Emirates Team New Zealand axing an unspecified number of “informants”, accusing them of leaking “confidential and sensitive” information over a period of several months.
ETNZ also admitted yesterday that New Zealand’s ministry of business innovation and employment was investigating allegations made against them, although they described them as “baseless” and “highly defamatory”.
In a statement, ETNZ said they and event organisers America’s Cup Event Ltd first became suspicious six months ago that there were “informants” in their ranks. “These suspicions were confirmed when we had confidential and sensitive information coming back to us from Europe very recently,” the statement read.
It is unclear what secrets are out, or to whom the alleged informants were feeding information. Ben Ainslie’s British challenger Ineos Team UK said it was the first they had heard of the row when contacted yesterday.
ETNZ’s statement suggested the intelligence related to “financial and structural matters”, with a number of “highly defamatory and inaccurate” allegations made.
Grant Dalton, ETNZ’s managing director, told stuff.co.nz that among the allegations was one made against him concerning the payment to ship his race car to Australia. Dalton produced an invoice and a receipt for the website, presumably in an attempt to clear his name. “We’re flabbergasted,” Dalton said. “[That this] has existed in our own organisation under our watch, we find unbelievable. We still continue to struggle to believe it, but it’s happened.”
ETNZ added: “The motives of the informants who had access to the Emirates Team New Zealand base can only be guessed at, at this stage.
“These allegations are entirely incorrect. Although these allegations are baseless, the ministry of business innovation and employment have no choice but to investigate, despite our belief that the motives of the informants are extremely suspect.
“We are working with the ministry to close out the remaining issues with them quickly. We will not let this set us back in our America’s Cup defence or hosting of a great event this summer.”
Spying has long been part of the America’s Cup, going right back to its first edition in 1851 when British yacht owners spied on the schooner
America while it was dry-docked. American billionaire Bill Koch, who won the Cup in 1992, once said: “There is nothing gentlemanly about the America’s Cup and there is nothing fair about it. It is a dirty game. It is one of the nastiest games I have ever seen.” Koch admitted years later he had arranged for helicopter flights to photograph rival compounds, hired former American navy divers to go under every boat, and had people listen in on the opposition’s private radio channels and rifle through its garbage.
Dalton told Stuff that he had ETNZ’s waterfront base “swept” electronically twice after becoming suspicious. “We performed penetration tests through our firewalls to check people weren’t able to hack us – both of those proved negative,” Dalton said. He added that the alleged source of the leaks “clicked” about two weeks ago, when information came back to him from another party in Europe.
In a statement, the ministry of business innovation and employment acknowledged that it was looking into a number of claims. “This includes claims around structural and financial matters,” it said. “We are working with America’s Cup Events Ltd, and Emirates Team New Zealand in relation to the claims. As there are contractual agreements in place, we’re unable to go into further detail at this time due to commercial sensitivity, but we will provide a full update once more information is available.”
Despite a number of warm-up events having been cancelled this year due to coronavirus – including one which was meant to take place in Portsmouth this month – the America’s Cup is still scheduled to take place in Auckland next spring.
Intrigue: Emirates Team New Zealand’s AC75 yacht prepares in the waters off Auckland