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VOR in Hong Kong - gone but not forgotten

by Suzy Rayment 8 Feb 04:17 GMT
VOR 2017-18 Stopover, Hong Kong. Young visitors on board Team SHK/Scallywag. © Ainhoa Sanchez / Volvo Ocean Race

The Volvo Ocean Race (VOR) Hong Kong Stopover may be over, but its legacy will continue, and is set to bring a whole new generation of sailors into the sport.

Hong Kong has proved yet again that it’s a great venue for international sporting events, and this time the winner is sailing. With its spectacular harbour surrounded by skyscrapers, and a vibrant and energetic sailing community, Hong Kong has long been on the Volvo Ocean Race’s ‘wish list’ as a port stopover. This is the first time that the race has come to Hong Kong, and hopefully it will not be the last. But how did the stopover come about?

Initially it was through the combined efforts of the Hong Kong Sailing Federation (HKSF), and the Royal Hong Kong Yacht Club (RHKYC). “We were aware that the VOR had wanted to come to Hong Kong for some time, but it was all about timing,” said Anthony Day, former Vice President of the HKSF. “The 20th Anniversary of the Foundation of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region was the perfect time to showcase Hong Kong.” Government funding was secured with the support of the Home Affairs Department, and the the current HKSF President, Tong Shing, and Charlie Manzoni, (Vice President HKSF) have been actively involved in putting Hong Kong squarely on the global map of top drawer sailing events.

At the Stopover Closing Ceremony, Betty Fung Ching Suk-yee, Permanent Secretary for Home Affairs said, “In hosting the Hong Kong Stopover, the Government had two objectives in mind; the first was to have a major sports event, especially a new one, to celebrate the 20th Anniversary of the establishment of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region in 2017; and the second was to enhance Hong Kong’s position as a sports event capital in Asia.” Tick all the above: it seems that both of these objectives have been met, and Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-Ngor was reported to have said at the Awards Ceremony, “We want the race back”. So let’s hope this is the start of a long-term relationship between the VOR and Hong Kong.

Just as important as the VOR Hong Kong stopover itself was the entry of a Hong Kong team into this edition of the race. Hong Kong businessman and enthusiastic sailor, Lee Seng Huang, Group Executive Chairman of Sun Hung Kai & Co, was approached by Volvo to sponsor a team. “We were refitting our 100ft supermaxi, Scallywag, and preparing for the 2017 Rolex Sydney to Hobart Race at the time,” said Lee. “But after some deliberation we decided that although it would involve a last-minute rush, this was a unique opportunity to showcase the sport and represent Hong Kong in this iconic race. With the Hong Kong government’s support through Brand Hong Kong, we were absolutely sure that a Hong Kong stopover would be a landmark addition to the city’s sporting calendar.”

Skipper David Witt admits that Team SHK/Scallywag were probably not as well prepared as some of the other teams, and so didn’t do as well in the early legs of the race. However, recent crew changes have seen the team’s performance improve, and they led the fleet into Hong Kong, winning leg 4 of the race, from Melbourne to Hong Kong, and making for a fairytale finish for the team and their sponsor.

But coming first into the home port is only part of the SHK Scallywag story; Lee is committed to establishing a ‘sailing legacy’ that will grow the sport in Hong Kong. “As we are the first team to represent Hong Kong in the race, Team SHK/Scallywag aims to leave a legacy that promotes sailing to the general public, and in particular Hong Kong’s youth. It’s a wonderful sport for young people to develop strong resilience, endurance and teamwork, all surrounded by the beautiful natural environment of Hong Kong. Today many people still think of sailing as an elitist sport run by exclusive clubs, but that is a misconception. It is a key sport that Hong Kong athletes have an opportunity to excel in globally, and we are keen to continue promoting the sport to a broader audience to make it more accessible for our next generation.”

The Sun Hung Kai & Co. Foundation has recently announced that it will establish the HKSF Sun Hung Kai Scallywag Development Programme, a partnership with Hong Kong Sailing Federation aimed at making the sport of sailing more accessible. The Foundation will match - dollar for dollar – funds raised to finance a programme of 9,000 days of free sailing tuition for disadvantaged young people in Hong Kong. According to Peter Curry, Executive Director and Group CFO, “The scheme will be delivered by highly qualified instructors at sailing centres around Hong Kong, with the goal of making it as easy as possible for participants to take part. With 12,000 school children having visited the race village during the stopover, the seeds have been sown. We have no doubt that sailing will grow and expand in the future.”

Lee also believes that the Hong Kong stopover will have a lasting impact. “As one of the world’s most stunning harbours, and the boating capital of Asia, Hong Kong has all the qualities required to be a key leg of the VOR. It’s the perfect opportunity for the world to witness the city’s unique sailing environment, and for local residents to better appreciate the excitement of the sport, up close. Ideally, we hope that this will inspire more young sailors and children to take up the sport of sailing which is still very under-represented in the region.”

At the end of the day, however, an event like this is only a success if it has the support of the community, and over 5,000 volunteers from the Hong Kong sailing community offered their services both on and off the water. From race management to school visits, the volunteers were at the race village from dawn to dusk engaging with the general public during the 15-day stopover.

Johan Salen, Co-President of the Volvo Ocean Race, said “Hong Kong has proved to be one of the most popular stopovers of the entire race to date, both on a corporate level and also for the sailors and teams in the race. Although the race has been to China before (Qingdao and Sanya), this is the first time for Hong Kong. With its strong sailing traditions and easy international access, the priority going forward must be to build on the relationships that have been established during this stopover.. but maybe a more central location for the race village would be good next time.” This stopover will go down in history as a milestone event for Hong Kong sailing, and has provided a wonderful platform to engage more Hongkongers in the sport . Now all we need to do is to raise those dollars for the ‘Sailing Legacy’ and have it matched by the Sun Hung Kai & Co. Foundation. Let’s work together to make this happen and grow the sport of sailing in Hong Kong.

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