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Last Updated: Saturday, 19 June, 2004, 17:19 GMT 18:19 UK
GBR downplay Ainslie move
By Rob Hodgetts

Britain's America's Cup team insist the decision of top sailors Ben Ainslie and Iain Percy to join overseas syndicates is "not a major blow".

The Olympic gold medallists have joined Team New Zealand and Italy's +39 team respectively with GBR Challenge yet to finalise their bid for 2007.

"It's a disappointment but not a major blow," said team official Leslie Ryan.

"Ben would have been very useful and a good profile to us but Iain has no America's Cup experience at all."

Ryan, head of sponsorship and marketing at GBR Challenge, told BBC Sport: "It would have been fantastic to have those guys involved but the whole thing by no means falls apart.

"The America's Cup is about a lot of people, and we always intended to go for more heavily experienced America's Cup people this time."

GBR Challenge lost in the quarter-finals in Auckland in 2002 after a two-year campaign backed to the tune of 22m by British businessman Peter Harrison.

We need to become more set up as a professional sports team as opposed to Peter Harrison's personal hobby
GBR Challenge's Leslie Ryan

The millionaire has pledged to donate 50% of the funds for a fresh campaign for the next America's Cup in Valencia in 2007.

The team are in talks with potential sponsors to provide the rest of the projected 40m needed for operating costs.

Ryan revealed they were in "fairly final" talks with three separate potential sponsors - either as sole title sponsors with naming rights, or in partnership - and are hoping for a decision in July.

"We're in the privileged position of having Peter Harrison as almost a silent investor," she said.

"He doesn't have a brand or business he needs to promote so he's willing to sell the title rights, which means we can offer that package to the market at a competitive rate."
Peter Harrison
Harrison will finance 50% of a new America's Cup project

Harrison has insisted he will not bankroll the team indefinitely and will only continue as long as significant negotiations are moving forward, according to Ryan.

But he has vowed to take a backwards step this time around after playing a high-profile role in the 2002 campaign.

"The team feel they need to become more commercial and less reliant on Peter, for it to become more set up as a professional sports team as opposed to Peter Harrison's personal hobby," said Ryan.

"Peter's very happy to do that and share the responsibility."

GBR Challenge scaled back their operation to a 30-man staff after Auckland but have upped the number to 45 for a summer of training on Auckland race boat GBR 70.

Ben Ainslie
Ainslie will sail for Team New Zealand in the America's Cup

The majority of the squad is comprised of Auckland veterans, including skipper Ian Walker, but negotiations are ongoing with a number of other personnel.

"There will be some non-British because we simply don't have the talent in this country, so we'll be adding quite a number of overseas sailors and designers," said Ryan.

"It's a frustrating time. We're having lots of discussions with people but we can't do the deal until we have the money in place, though lots of teams are in that position."

The America's Cup competition has changed, with a four-year programme of regattas providing racing and a platform for sponsors leading up to the event.

The first, non-compulsory regatta is in Marseilles in September, followed by two more in Valencia in October. The final date for entry to the 2007 America's Cup is April 2005.

Switzerland's Alinghi, winner of the Louis Vuitton challenger series, beat holders Team New Zealand to lift the America's Cup in 2002.


SEE ALSO
Ainslie opts for NZ boat
15 Jun 04  |  Other Sport
Harrison faces crucial year
06 Jan 03  |  Sailing
British bid still afloat
25 Nov 02  |  Sailing
GBR boss Harrison upbeat
18 Nov 02  |  Sailing
GBR Challenge exit
18 Nov 02  |  Sailing


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