Why is it that the SailGP circus is so unconvincing? The spectacle of some of the world’s best sailors fleet racing each other in wing-sail foiling cats should be a slam dunk. Yet the 2021 series about to begin in Bermuda this weekend has caused hardly a ripple. If we take out SailGP’s own hyperventilating PR releases, the media – and therefore the sailing public – have so far treated the event as a giant yawn.
This indifference must be concerning for The Man from O.R.A.C.L.E and his loyal sidekick Sir Rumpled Coutts. Many millions have been spent trying to generate real international interest for SailGP, but for minimal return.
Admittedly, the timing of COVID could not have been worse: any momentum the series had hoped to build from the first race last year was halted by a 14-month break. Anticipated revenue from spectators (always a dicey proposition for yachting regattas) has similarly disappeared down the gurgler because of virus restrictions. Sponsors are hard to find for a sporting event that struggles for continuity and genuine media attention.
But there are, to my mind, other significant factors that make SailGP seem so lackluster.
The first is that it is a competition with no history or traditions. It was invented as an F1-style spin-off from the America’s Cup. Meanwhile, the Cup moved on to even more extreme boats leaving the 50-foot cats looking strangely old-fashioned. The million dollar winner-take-all finale always seemed like a desperate attempt to inject manufactured excitement into a format that lacks its own innate drama.
There is a parallel sense of hollowness in the pretense of SailGP being a competition between ‘national’ teams. Professionalism at the elite level in sailing destroyed national allegiances long ago. Skippers and crew from the US, Japan, UK, Australia, New Zealand and Italy jump from boat to boat chasing the top dollar, and who can blame them? But to anyone with even a passing interest in the sport this mercenary approach makes a mockery of the national flags on the wing sails.
It is difficult to escape the suspicion that the SailGP management are now aware of these shortcomings. Their public posture and online pronouncements seem designed to distract us from the racing itself and point to the event’s self-proclaimed feel-good credentials.
Take this over-blown boast from their website: “SailGP is more than a racing championship. We #RaceForTheFuture using our global platform to accelerate change to a cleaner and more inclusive future.” Hmnn. It’s a theme they keep hammering: “Passion. Drama. Powered by Nature™: SailGP is adrenaline racing for a better future. POWERED BY NATURE, DRIVEN BY PURPOSE.”
Then there are the constant references to sustainability and inclusiveness: “SailGP will set a new standard as the first climate positive sports and entertainment property, while delivering actions and innovations that advance the global adoption of clean energy. Underpinning the plan is a diversification of the league, with the goal of immediately progressing gender and racial inclusivity.”
OK, fellas. We get it. But it gets worse: “The DEI Committee (Diversity, Equity and Inclusion) drives the holistic inclusion of underrepresented groups across the organization. SailGP global leadership team will undergo a custom inclusive leadership workshop.”
And let’s not forget the ladies (holistic or not): “SailGP has launched an extensive program to fast-track the training and development of female athletes for participation in the global championship. At least one female athlete will be selected to train and be immersed within each team.”
“Immersed”? No photos, please!
There is so much of this twaddle that you wonder when they ever have the time to go sailing.
– anarchist David