BP CEO Steals Headlines From 2010 Round the Island Race. 6

There is only one downside to a yacht race that features over 1700 boats and an estimated 16,000 competitors. In such a race there are 16,000 stories, almost all of which are positive and reinforce the best things about sailing, not just as a sport, but as a great past-time. Luckily, we live in a world of Twitter and Facebook, where individuals stories have more chance of being heard.

One of the first stories we ever published was about the Round the Island Race. That year, there were also thousands of stories, but there was only one that made the back page of the paper. In 2008, Lewis Hamilton joined Ben Ainslie and Alex Thomson aboard Hugo Boss and became the biggest story of the race.

In 2010, all the hard work of hundreds of volunteers from the Island Sailing Club, worthy investments by title sponsor J P Morgan Asset Management and big publicity opportunities for charity were all obliterated in the media by BP CEO, Tony Hayward deciding to take part in the Round the Island Race aboard his Farr 52 – BOB.

While Hayward’s participation gave the Round the Island Race massive worldwide exposure, it only perpetuated the stereotype of yacht racing as a sport for spoilt captains of industry. Ironically, the Round the Island Race is one of the most inclusive races in the world. While the branded up race boats are out in front, the vast majority of the fleet is made up of sailors of all ages and abilities.

The publicity given to Tony Hayward will not take away the sense of achievement from competitors in the race. In a world of social media, ambassadors for charities like Breast Cancer Care, Macmillan Cancer Support, the Ellen Macarthur Trust and Prostate UK, can talk directly to their audience and bypass the mainstream media. This is what sailing does on a more regular basis. Used to being ignored by the mass market traditional media, sailing has innovated to be heard in new ways.

In 2010, Apprentice UK Winner and Princes Trust Ambassador – Michelle Dewberry competed in the race alongside Ben Ainslie. Michelle has nearly 10,000 Twitter followers* – which is 10,000 people who will hear about the Round the Island Race and sailing in a positive light. Unfortunately, millions more will hear about the Round the Island Race, not as a huge participatory event that does great work for charity, but as a bit of fun for a CEO who should be thinking about the water quality on the other side of the world.

So not only is Tony Hayward responsible for having a massive negative impact on the marine economy in the Gulf of Mexico, by participating in the Round the Island Race, he will also have a massive negative impact on UK sailing by single-handedly repositioning the UK’s favourite, most inclusive yacht race as a bit of fun for out of touch, rich men.

* We don’t think there is anyone in the sailing world who has more Twitter followers than Michelle Dewberry, except for Giovanni Soldini. If you can think of anyone – please let us know!

  • Wet Wheels

    Sorry, but Jonathan Ross has 581,000 Twitter followers. Kylie has 200,000. 10,000 is pretty paltry these days.

    I agree the media are trying to show Haywards participation in an “elitist” light, but it is for us in the yachting media to counter that. What's the saying about “all publicity is good publicity”?

  • Hi Geoff – you're right 10,000 is not a lot compared with Stephen Fry or CNN, but the question was someone 'in sailing' who has more than 10,000. I'm pretty sure neither Jonathan Ross or Kylie mentioned the Round the Island Race over the weekend.

  • PRPeta

    As the ISC's Race Press Officer and after handling hundreds of media enquiries from all the major news outlets around the world for a solid 18 hours, I am of the opinion that we have done everything we possibly can to try and protect the integrity of the race to the satisfaction of the organisers, sponsors, race partners and the all-important competitors. Writing that Hayward's actions will have a massive negative impact on the event just adds more fuel to the raging fires already burning.

    Please support our continuing efforts – the phone is still ringing off the hook!

  • LJ – London

    Hi. I have only heard of this event because I follow Michelle on twitter. Prior to that I had no idea what it was, so that proves this works.

    PS, 10,000 followers “paltry”? It's 9,735 more than I have and I'm sure it's more then the commentator 'wet wheels' has.

    Michelle is an ordinary girl, not a pop star and she has never professed to be anything more. From what I've read of your event – that's exactly the type of people you are trying to make the race known too. I enjoyed her updates and her pictures and it made me excited about an event I never knew existed.

  • I think the author got it about right. The blame is not on the race, but on the selfish individual who doesn’t seem to think very hard about the carnage caused around him. The Round the Island Race is a great race and will continue to be. Its also understandable that the media would seek to use any angle to sell more papers or get more clicks. Certainly there are a lot more people who know about the race now than would have otherwise – if they can be converted then its got to be a good thing.

  • I'm like you. I'm not really into sailing, and usually these events use celebrities who are there for their own ends to sell more books or cds or launch something, but it was great to follow Michelle's weekend at the race. It doesn't matter if you have 10 or 10,000 followers, its who they are that is important.