Business / Economy

Sailing with the winds of change

By Zhang Chunyan (China Daily) Updated: 2014-09-22 07:10

Sailing with the winds of change

The worldwide Extreme Sailing Series, the sailing equivalent of Formula 1 racing, has stressed China's importance as a sailing market even without a Chinese team's participation. [Photo/China Daily]

Growing acceptance of the sport may help bring in more sponsors

In one race the contestants are like gladiators fighting for supremacy in an amphitheater, and in the other the big adversary is the fiercest ocean storms you can imagine. The first event calls for tactical knowledge in a race that can be over in just 20 minutes, and the other calls for the stamina and toughness needed for nine months at sea.

The two events are the Extreme Sailing Series and the Volvo Ocean Race, and while they could hardly be any more different, they do have at least one thing in common: Organizers would be happy to see more Chinese take part in the sport and business, which has tended to be a preserve of the West.

However, the winds of change that have blown through yachting over the past six years are evident in how important Qingdao, in Shandong province, has become to the sport. That is due largely to the huge fillip it received when Qingdao hosted yachting and sailing events for the Olympic Games six years ago.

In May, the third race in this year's Extreme Sailing Series, featuring teams from nine countries, was held there. It was the fourth year in a row, but there was still one thing missing: a team from China.

Mark Turner, executive chairman of OC Sport, the global marketing company that organizes the series and other events such as running, cycling and winter sports, says: "We have still not managed to put together a Chinese team for a whole year, and this is a big objective for us."

OC Sport was founded by Turner in 1993. He teamed four years later with Ellen MacArthur from the United Kingdom, a former holder of the record for the fastest yachting circumnavigation of the globe. Turner says that one of the company's missions is to change the way sailing is seen and to "use sport to inspire the public, sponsors and cities alike to take on new challenges".

The company is keenly aware of the importance of training youngsters to be sailors, something that applies particularly to China. It manages the Dongfeng Race Team, half of whose 12 members are Chinese, which was established after the 2008 Olympics. It is the first time the team has had more than one Chinese member in its crew. The team, whose chief sponsor is Dongfeng Trucks of Shiyan, Hubei province, is one of the seven entrants in the next Volvo Ocean Race, which sets off from Alicante, Spain, on Oct 4 and finishes in Gothenburg, Sweden, at the end of June. The other entrants are from Abu Dhabi, Brunei, Norway, Spain and Sweden, and there is a joint Turkey/US team.

"The Chinese people on the Dongfeng Race Team are really good sailors, but we need to have the money so they can have their own team, and I want to make that happen," Turner says. For the race in 2017-18, the aim is for the majority of the team to be Chinese and for the 2020-21 race, 100 percent Chinese.

Chinese sailors tend to be extremely young and lack experience, he says.

Sailing with the winds of change

Sailing with the winds of change

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