Azzam’s victory in Volvo Ocean Race will serve as a platform for progress

But how best to build on performance remains uncertain, writes Osman Samiuddin.

Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing’s Azzam has all but secured a historic victory in the Volvo Ocean Race after taking third in the eighth leg. Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing
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ABU DHABI // Discussions have begun on the next step for Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing (Ador) after the team’s boat, Azzam, sealed a historic victory in the Volvo Ocean Race on Thursday in Lorient.

Barring a last-place finish plus a points penalty, Ian Walker, the Emirati sailor Adil Khalid and their crew will lift ocean sailing’s most prestigious trophy in Gothenburg at the end of the month thanks to their third-place finish in the eighth leg of the race.

What is next for the project that was started by the Abu Dhabi Tourism and Culture Authority (TCA) in 2009 is unclear, but observers have said it would be a surprise if it did not continue.

“There is a discussion that is taking place,” an Ador official said. “Obviously there is a full evaluation process that we’re going through at the minute and we can’t complete that until the end of the race.

“A lot of the decisions have to be based on the heart and the head. From our hearts, we’d love to see Ador as a brand and concept move forward. We just have to make sure it adds up.”

The TCA will decide, although it helps that the costs of running a campaign have come down considerably since Ador first raced a boat in the 2011/12 event.

Introducing one-design boats and sharing of upkeep costs has, according to some, reduced the expense by nearly a third.

“We will review what we have done and see what our partners in the Abu Dhabi Sports Council and the Sailing and Yacht Club feel,” said Faisal Al Sheikh, director of events bureau at the TCA.

“It will be a collective decision among all the parties. Then we will try to push the envelope towards another journey.

“But we don’t want to talk about the future right now. We’re so proud of what we have done. Our objective is that this team wins and we have the best stopover.”

VOR chief executive Knut Frostad said in May that the aim was to have eight to 10 boats in the 2017/18 race.

The route for that year’s race will be announced in January 2016. Several ports, including Alicante in Spain, will return in 2017/18 and Cardiff, the capital of Wales, is an addition as the race returns to the UK for the first time in more than a decade.

On Thursday, as Azzam sailed in, Frostad said he hoped Abu Dhabi would continue its participation.

“No, there hasn’t been any news [of continued participation] yet, but I know there will be a discussion on it very soon,” he said. “Hopefully this is an inspiration for the future, to continue having a team from the UAE.”

Given the exacting nature of the race, any decision is unlikely to be taken in a rush. The man responsible for engineering the triumph is keen to see this as the starting point in a longer journey, but Azzam skipper Ian Walker wants to recover first.

“All I’ve got planned right now is holidays with my family this summer,” he said. “This race takes a lot out of you mentally and physically. I reckon it takes at least three months to recover and get over what you’ve been through before you can make rational decisions about the future.

“I’ve invested four years of my life into Ador and trying to promote sailing in the UAE. I think there’s a lot more work to be done. This hopefully can be the platform for increasing interest in sailing.

“I’d hate to think of everything stopping just now, having done the hard bit. The hard bit is setting these things up and then winning the race. Now you’ve got to build on that success.”

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