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Barker haunted by failure to play leading man

Dean Barker (Photograph by Gilles Martin-Raget/&Copy; ACEA 2017)

Dean Barker had the look of a man bidding farewell to the America’s Cup for the final time.

The SoftBank Team Japan skipper faced the media yesterday after his side’s Louis Vuitton America’s Cup Challenger Play-off Semi-final defeat at the hands of Artemis Racing brought their campaign in Bermuda to an end.

While Barker did not use the word “retirement” and actively said that he wanted to keep racing, his mannerisms after getting back to shore — from the heartfelt embrace with team-mates and family to the lingering look he gave the cameras at the end — told a different story.

Still, with the next America’s Cup potentially only two years away, Barker, 44, may decide he has another campaign left in him. Whether that is a sentiment that is universally shared is another matter, especially after Team Japan blew a 3-1 lead to eventually lose 5-3.

“I haven’t really given any thought [to the future],” Barker said. “I’ve always said that I enjoy racing and I would love to keep racing, and if there is an opportunity I will, but we will have to see what the future does hold.”

His future may be uncertain, but one thing Barker has no doubt about is the pride that he feels for SoftBank’s performance over the past couple of weeks, and his determination that the Japanese team have a future in the America’s Cup.

“The main emotion I feel right now is an immense pride in what we have achieved in two years,” Barker said.

“We started with nothing and the group we have assembled, and the support we have felt from Japan has been incredible. Words cannot describe the feeling I had when we got back to shore with all the family, team members and friends.

“It’s been a fantastic honour and privilege to be involved in running a new team and assembling a great group of people, and I wouldn’t trade that for anything.”

New Zealand, as they have done in the past, may well hold the key to Barker’s future, and that of his team.

They are the only ones not to sign up to the new framework agreement outlining the plans for the 36th and 37th editions of the America’s Cup, and uncertainty about the format that would be chosen should New Zealand win this time around would jeopardise SoftBank’s future.

People close to Barker, who is also his team’s chief executive, have said as much privately, with the Japanese team’s finances a delicate balancing act that may not survive a drawn-out battle over the future of the Cup.

“I really hope this team does have a future,” Barker said. “One of the big objectives for this team has been building a fanbase for America’s Cup and Team Japan in Japan, and it’s nice to have Japan back in the America’s Cup for the first time since 2000.

“Obviously, there are a few things that need to be sorted out before we have that sort of certainty, but I really hope that’s the case.”

In the immediate term, Barker will turn his attention to help plotting the downfall of Team New Zealand while preparing for what he hopes is a prosperous future.

The SoftBank skipper announced his intention to work with Oracle Team USA as the defenders get ready to face the winners of the Challenger final between New Zealand and Artemis.

“We’ve had a great relationship with Oracle due to the fact that they provide us with our design, and everything else,” Barker said.

“So the intention would be to go on and do some more sailing [with Oracle] and continue on with the development process. We really hope that the framework agreement and AC36 continues on because it is definitely the right direction for the America’s Cup, and so do five of the teams.

“It would be great to see that play out, and any development we do with the boat now is beneficial for the future.”