Why do countries like Oman and Korea want to create sailing programmes from scratch?
One of the most interesting successes of the Oman Sail project kickstarted by Mark Turner and his colleagues at OC Events has been to foster and grow sailing expertise in a country that had none.
When Oman Sail was set up in 2008 there were no racing sailors, boats or events in Oman. The aim was to change that.
Besides sponsoring two boats in the iShares Cup Extreme 40 circuit and building a 100ft A100 trimaran based on Thomas Coville’s Sodeb’O there are now some 40 trained Omani sailors and a rolling programme of schools sailing.
The rationale and advantage of spending money on a previously unregarded sporting area isn’t one I want to debate here, I’m merely noting that for various reasons there is a surge of interest in the Middle East and further afield in getting involved in sailing.
It’s not confined to these countries, though. Other developing nations also want to exploit sailing as part of a broader, westernised portfolio of sporting excellence both for reasons of national pride and tourism/coastal development.
South Korea (pictured above) is another example. They have decided that racing and leisure boating is an area they want to expand hand-in-hand.
In February they sent a representative to the UK to find out how it can be done. She had learned to speak English on a three-month crash course, come to the UK to train as an dinghy instructor and was consulting with RYA on how to set up a governing body of sailing in Korea before returning home to become head of training.
This is part of a plan that will see Korea build 20 new marinas over the next few years and begin to put together a national training programme.
Other emerging countries would also like to see greater success in sailing, particularly grand prix racing and the Olympics. And although it’s a steep learning curve for countries with no sailing culture there’s no special black art to yacht racing that cannot be taught.
After all, for every special, innately talented Ben Ainslie sailing genius there are probably a dozen or more hard-grafting sailing athletes who have risen to the top or medalled in the Olympics with expertise accrued through diligent learning and top coaching.
The Winter Olympics gave us some good demonstrations of how sports supremacy can be deliberately cultivated even to the point of domination. Chinese figure skaters were fostered purposely and are now the best in the world. Similarly, Chinese snowboarders, who used to look decidedly wooden because of their isolated training, are starting to absorb the boarding culture and excel.
Without doubt the same can be done in sailing – inshore and offshore – and if an eventual dilution of the established countries dominance happens in sailing as it has in other sports it will be a very interesting process.