WELLINGTON (Reuters) - New Zealand's government will help fund another America's Cup challenge after Team New Zealand had said members of their design and sailing personnel were being approached by 'vultures' in rival syndicates.
Team New Zealand (TNZ), were beaten by defenders Oracle Team USA, backed by software billionaire Larry Ellison, in a winner-takes-all final race on San Francisco Bay last week, after leading 8-1 at one stage with nine needed for victory, and the future of the syndicate had come under scrutiny.
TNZ's campaign, put in excess of NZ$120 million ($99.50 million), was partially funded by a central government injection of NZ$36 million, and politicians had wavered about committing more funding from the public purse.
Economic Development Minister Stephen Joyce, however, told thousands of people packed onto Queen's Wharf in Auckland at a welcome home ceremony for TNZ on Friday the government would be willing to help fund another tilt at sport's oldest trophy.
"This country and this Government stands ready to be part of the next America's Cup challenge," Joyce told the cheering fans, who had packed into Shed 10 and its surrounds to catch a glimpse of skipper Dean Barker, syndicate head Grant Dalton and other members of the team.
"As I've said to Grant and Dean 'you've got a lot of work to do'. I said 'work on a proposal and we'll help you out with it'."
Australia's Hamilton Island Yacht Club (HIYC), owned by wine tycoon and sailing enthusiast Bob Oatley, have already been confirmed as the Challenger of Record and will work with the defenders to determine the format of the next regatta, likely to be in 2016.
After New Zealand's previous challenge in 2007, the government pledged the money early to lock up talent for the next America's Cup cycle before sponsors were found for more funding.
Prime Minister John Key and Joyce had said earlier this week, after Barker and Dalton had said that rival syndicates were already beginning to approach TNZ members, they would be open to a similar arrangement.
The decision is a far cry from less than two months ago when Key said he doubted there would be any public funding for a challenge, though it would look at helping to fund a defence through infrastructure development if TNZ won the trophy.
Key's center-right government had also balked at the initial $36 million funding when they took power from the previous center-left Labour-led coalition government in 2008 in the wake of the global financial crisis.
Both Key and Joyce, however, have spoken this week of the positive international exposure the country received during the America's Cup, while HIYC have said they would like to work with Oracle to reduce the cost of competing in the next regatta.
Barker had said earlier this week the window to lock up members of the sailing and design teams was incredibly tight.
"We have a very small window of opportunity," he told local broadcaster TV3.
"Without the money to be able to get going again very quickly we lose the people, and if we lose the people there is no Team New Zealand.
"The vultures are already circling."
(Reporting by Greg Stutchbury; Editing by John O'Brien)