Hard part for Abu Dhabi was winning Volvo Ocean Race – hardest part will be building on it

Osman Samiuddin writes the next step for Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing – taking the momentum of Volvo Ocean Race victory and translating it into robust Emirati enthusiasm for the sport – will be the real work.

Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing won the 2014/15 Volvo Ocean Race by reaching the podium in seven of the nine legs. Amory Ross / Team Alvimedica/ Volvo Ocean Race
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It is a little soon to be asking whether Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing (Ador) is to take part in the next Volvo Ocean Race as it is only a week since Azzam sealed ocean sailing's greatest title.

That Volvo win was built over the nine months of the race and almost another year before that of preparations.

So it is only fair that Ian Walker, Adil Khalid, the rest of Ador and the Abu Dhabi Tourism & Culture Authority (TCA) and Sports Council want to take some time to let the victory sink in before deciding what to do next.

In any case, there is plenty that needs doing to draw a final line under this project.

The TCA will carry out their own presumably wide-ranging review and evaluate what kind of returns they have received from Azzam, the victory and the Abu Dhabi stopover, which attracted 120,000 visitors to the race village last December. An entry in the Volvo is not a small investment.

So a decision on whether Ador will continue and take part in the next Volvo in 2017/18 will not be made quickly. It could take six months and will be made with both head and heart firmly in the right place.

For what it is worth I see this as precisely the kind of moment that needs to be seized upon if the original charter of the project is to be achieved.

In 2009, the TCA was looking for ways to expand on an already established maritime tradition as well as to bump up tourism. A Volvo win, as momentous as it may seem, is only the beginning of that process.

The question Walker posed on Monday while in Abu Dhabi is compelling: once you have won it, what possible driving force remains in a next race?

It was not just a win, either. The comprehensiveness of Azzam's victory is worth recounting: the overall race title, the in-port series, the award for best on-board reporter as well as for the best navigator. A tough task to follow that up, or, outlandishly, better it.

But, as Walker’s long-time business partner and friend, and Ador’s commercial director, Jamie Boag, pointed out, there are different ways of ­winning.

Azzam was one of two boats in the race that could be said to have had an agenda that went beyond just winning. Alongside Dongfeng Race Team, Ador are seeking to revitalise a national legacy of sailing.

Dongfeng is an instructive example. They had six Chinese sailors in their squad and, on each leg, made sure at least two were part of the crew. A few of them had never sailed before they got involved with the ­project.

That is what Azzam should be aiming for, to find other Adil Khalids. They found a few in the search that led to Khalid in January 2011.

“There are more Emiratis that we need to target out there,” Boag said. “Adil has done well. But maybe there’s more we could recruit in the next project. Maybe we try to win it in a different way.”

Presumably, with more Emirati sailors.

In a sense, what Azzam has done is put the top of the pyramid in place. Having an Emirati as part of the crew was an achievement but, like Dongfeng, one way forward is to find some more for the next race.

Perhaps Ador does not need to return to the Volvo race, specifically. Maybe there are other avenues for them to travel, other ways in which they can contribute to grass-roots sailing in the country.

“We need to think much more about the legacy here,” Walker said. “We’ve done very well at the top of the pyramid in inspiring people by getting attention. There’s a lot of work at ground level, but maybe we need to help more lower down.”

From the moment the title was won, Walker has maintained that it should only be the beginning. The hard part was winning the race. The hardest part will be to build upon it.


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