While the sailing world continues to gab about the on-water Greenpeace protest of the Gazprom-sponsored 100 foot Reichel-Pugh Esimit Europa in last weekend’s Barcolana, facts continue to roll in. Most interestingly, the Jochen Schumann-skippered enviro-disaster just broke the top 5 meters of her rig off during at attempt on the Trieste-Malta record (apparently, someone keeps track of this shit). As of this morning they still were unable to get the mainsail released, and they have now pulled out of next week’s Rolex Middle Sea Race, where they took line honors for the last three years.
Is karma catching up to the boat sponsored by one of today’s great enviro-villains? The more we look, the nastier Gazprom appears, and not just for their part in the Russian special ops-team arrest of 30 protestors in the Arctic.
Exhibit 1: After Belgian racing website ClubRacer ran an editorial wondering about the propriety of Gazprom’s title sponsorship of the newly ISAF-ized Swan 60 Class, they were allegedly contacted by Europol and threatened by other parties to stop criticizing the gas giant. They also say multiple attempts to hack their website began the same week. We love ClubRacer’s response to what is fairly typical thuggery from a major corporation; they write “We will not stop criticizing until a decapitated horse’s head is found in our bed.”
Exhibit 2: Somehow, the Gazprom Swan 60 Class held a World Championship this year, being named an ISAF International Class. That’s a 5-boat World Championship, for those of you counting. Remember when ISAF actually required a Class to have a substantial international makeup before being granted the right to hold a World Championship? Apparently, they no longer give a shit about what that means, or maybe that gassy money is more than sufficient to keep them from caring? Does ISAF think the Gazprom Swan 60 World Championship fleet fulfills everything about a Worlds they’ve fought so hard to define? We don’t know that, but we do know that something smells pretty awful, and it ain’t natural gas.
Exhibit 3: Unlike the Esimit Europa project, which only races their maxi at events where she is guaranteed line honors,the aforementioned title sponsorship of the Gazprom Swan 60 Class puts the world’s biggest natural gas producer in the limelight at some of Europe’s biggest regattas. Given the nearly universal effort by sailing’s stakeholders — events, teams, classes, manufacturers, National Associations, sponsorship seekers — to associate the sport with clean energy and green growth, this could force a huge step backwards for the sport’s image. The logo is burning gas, for chrissakes! Does ISAF and the pile of major regattas they have scheduled really want to see all that work ruined by associating the top level of sailing with a company with this kind of enironmental and human rights record? Maybe if they get another big check…
Exhibit 4: Persistent rumors say Gazprom is on the verge of funding an America’s Cup team. It would be a drop in the bucket for a company that supplies half the world with fuel, and sources say either Igor Simcic (the head of the Esimit program) or Vladimir Liubomirov (recently entered in the RC-44 circuit) would run the program. In either case, can you imagine the protests when the Gazprom foiler comes to San Francisco? While we appreciate irony as much as anyone, no one looking out for the Cup, the sponsors, or the sport wants to see the Gazprom flame logo flying right in front of the Sailors for the Sea banners.
While everyone hates to turn down real money from a new sponsor to the sport, we urge anyone considering a Gazprom deal to consider the long term damage to your brand, your association, and the sport. It’s not like Greenpeace will forget, and whether you disagree with their politics or not, this sport can ill afford the kind of scandal that a Gazprom in the AC or any major event could bring.
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