In the last edition of the Volvo Ocean Race, there were some shaking of heads and grumbles from the establishment when organisers put stops in India and China. The traditional blast around the southern ocean, miles from sunshine or spectators was replaced by a bold attempt to bring offshore racing to new markets. It’s the kind of balancing act that all professionally based sports have to deal with – weighing up commercial interests with the sporting element.
In the next edition of the race, the teams will sail up the east coast of Africa as they did in the last, but when they get to the top they will turn right, into the gulf and stop in Abu Dhabi. No doubt there are some who are shaking their heads and grumbling at the decision, which is a commercial one, but if early media and promotion is anything to go by, the Abu Dhabi stop will be a huge thing for sailing.
With over a year to go, there is little or no noise from the other 7 stops, relative to the information that is coming out of the Emirates. Perhaps yacht racing visiting Cape Town or Auckland is not so new and therefore not so newsworthy, but such complacency plays into the hands of new, hungry venues that are looking to grow the sport. The Volvo Ocean Race is not just about the stopover, it is about a new nation in the race.
This week, UAE national, Adil Khalid was announced as a crew member of Abu Dhabi Tourism Authority (ADTA)-backed Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing team for the 2011/12 Volvo Ocean Race, making him the first Emirati sailor to compete in the race.
Adil Khalid, who represented the UAE in both the Beijing Olympics in 2008 and the Asian Games in November 2010, beat more than 120 Emirati hopefuls to earn his spot in the 11-strong sporting crew, which includes Olympic medal winners, America’s Cup victors, Volvo Ocean Race champions and Guinness World Record holders.
His Highness Sheikh Sultan bin Tahnoon Al Nahyan, Chairman, ADTA and Team Principal of Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing said:
“The search for the UAE national to represent us in this challenge has been extensive, in-depth and highly competitive. This exhaustive process was necessary because the race demands and standards are exceptionally high, as are our own aspirations. We have been impressed by many of the applicants whose enthusiasm has been a credit to the nation. The final selection went down to the wire and at the end of the day Adil Khalid was the unanimous choice and we congratulate him on this achievement. All three finalists were worthy contenders but Adil Khalid had the edge in terms of sailing experience as well as his developmental potential.”
Adil will also be tasked with leading the procession of awe-inspiring Volvo Open 70 racing yachts into the emirate to a ‘homecoming’ unlike any other.
Mubarak Al Muhairi says:
“We are finalising site negotiations for a prime waterfront location in Abu Dhabi city that will serve as the host marina and race village for the Abu Dhabi leg of the 2011/2012 Volvo Ocean Race. We expect to break ground on the race village next month and progressively thereafter provide more details on its layout and design, visitor activities and community engagement programmes. The race boats will arrive here from Cape Town on New Year’s Eve giving us a unique opportunity to deliver a spectacular celebratory programme in true Arabian hospitality style for one and all.”
Over the last few years, Abu Dhabi has flexed its credentials as a major sporting hub, with the successful staging of the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, the European Tour-backed Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship and the Red Bull Air Race. Just as the development of new sporting facilities like the Grand Prix track put traditional venues (like the UK’s Silverstone) to shame, so too the investment into the Volvo Ocean Race stopover should give other host cities, not just of the Volvo Ocean Race, but other grand prix sailing events, something to think about.
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