The move of the VOR race office away from the UK is a significant part of the globalisation of ocean racing


For years it’s seemed an anachronism that the headquarters of the Volvo Ocean Race was based in the UK, and in Whiteley of all places, a nondescript inland conurbation development of the south coast sprawl. It was an odd hangover from the Whitbread of yore (excuse the pun), days of warm beer and Navy blazers when the race started and ended in the Solent.

That all died out long ago and it’s been obvious for ages that the nerve centre of a changing event was ludicrously out of place in Britain, a country that can no longer muster a single entry.

The news that the HQ of the VOR is re-locating to Alicante is significant in many ways. Spain has taken on yacht racing with a vengeance, scooping one after the other major events on a flood tide of public cash and/or support: the America’s Cup, the Barcelona World Race, the Audi MedCup, the last Velux 5 Oceans.

There are some encouraging signs a similar appetite could build in the Middle East. Oman is building a 105ft catamaran (more on that anon) with hopes of kick-starting a one-design ocean racing fleet to be raced between Middle Eastern and Asian countries.

The tide of money into sailing from such countries, which see yacht races as exciting and prestigious assets, is changing how and by whom racing is followed. History and heredity has a value if deployed carefully, but it’s only part of the commercial and marketing mix.

A point that was eloquently made by Volvo Race CEO Knut Frostad to this blog was that big events such as the VOR are globalising what has always tended to be a specialist taste in a few countries. In the process they are creating simultaneously different narratives for a wider variety of discrete national markets and demand for it in their own languages.

These changes have not been especially good for the British sailing industry, though, which has taken for granted the benefits that came from a historic perception of special oceangoing expertise and English language predominance. The move from Whiteley is another cheery wave goodbye to that long-outdated image and advantaged position.

There is no home to sailing any more; it’s more a case of rented accommodation and rolling leases. Spain, France and maybe the Middle East: these are the places where power in global sailing is increasingly shifting – for the time being. But France, where sponsorship is horribly thin, had better be wary and look at what has happened across the Channel.

The growing number of round the world races and record attempts is also fragmenting interest, breaking it into many more disparate pieces. We are all becoming picky eaters with different tastes.

Those who seek to form a co-ordinated calendar, an overarching structure, an organising body, a nice monolithic, uniform demand for events or a simple readership pattern and demographic are wasting their time. They (and we in the meeja) need to cotton on fast and be equally ready to wave old, outdated ideas farewell.