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  Tuesday, 11 February, 2003, 15:27 GMT
Kiwis crave Cup success
Team New Zealand unveil their America's Cup boat
Team New Zealand unveil their America's Cup boat

When Swiss challengers Alinghi begin their quest to wrest the America's Cup from Team New Zealand, the man at the helm will have the land of his birth urging him to fail.

New Zealander Russell Coutts was the skipper who not only led Team NZ to the Auld Mug in 1995, but also took them to a successful defence in 2000.

A rugby-mad country fell in love with the allure of the America's Cup and Coutts and his crew were accorded the same demi-God status as the All Blacks.

Dean Barker
Barker remains true to Team NZ

Then Coutts became public enemy number one by turning his back on Team NZ to join the Swiss team backed by the millions of Ernesto Bertarelli.

For the New Zealand public it was a move that smacked of greed and he was vilified in the press for his decision to take the money and jump ship.

Proud New Zealanders could not fathom how Coutts could turn his back on his country, despite the vast sums on offer, in an attempt to deprive it of the sporting trophy that had been so hard to win in the first place.

If the treatment footballer Sol Campbell received when he switched from Tottenham to arch rivals Arsenal was tough, Coutts and his tactician Brad Butterworth had it even worse, becoming persona non grata in the whole of their country.

Coutts' decision to leave the syndicate was never made clear until the end of the Louis Vuitton Cup.

According to reports, he wanted more funding for the 2003 defence.

You always hope your new boats aren't going to be slower - well, we're happy to say, 81 and 82 certainly aren't slower

Dean Barker

And the only way he could see Team NZ retaining the trophy was to seek an overseas benefactor at the expense of the five backers who had supported the 1995 and 2000 campaigns.

But the trustees of Team New Zealand did not want to jettison their loyal sponsors and Coutts opted to take his talents elsewhere.

Up against the might of his Alinghi syndicate will be his apprentice, Dean Barker.

Understudy to Coutts during the 2000 defence, the 29-year-old was handed the helm for Team NZ's cup-clinching victory over Prada and was the subject of offers to leave for another syndicate.

But Barker stuck with Team New Zealand and was rewarded with he skipper's job.

It was a case of biding his time to reap the riches and his commitment has endeared him to the New Zealand public.

His has already told his crew and board he will stick with the team, regardless of whether they are successful in this defence.

If the hosts are unsuccessful, it is doubtful that they will be able attract the investment necessary to mount a successful challenge against the collective wealth of European and American syndicates.

And, without the America's Cup, the New Zealand economy would also suffer.

So for New Zealanders, there is only one New Zealander to support - Barker.

It should not come as a surprise that black flags with the words 'Loyal' printed on them have been doing a roaring trade.

Success for Barker would not only mean a win for the 'little' guys, but it would also serve to demonstrate that sailors can be bought, but success has to be earned.


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