HK behind in Volvo Ocean Race bid

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 28 February, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 28 February, 2007, 12:00am

Hong Kong has been warned to get its act together or risk losing a stopover in the prestigious Volvo Ocean Race (VOR).

The plan to bring the VOR to Hong Kong, along with plans to put a privately funded home team in the race, has been approved by the Home Affairs Bureau. But the organisers need other relevant departments, particularly those responsible for tourism and the harbour, to get behind the plan.

'We need a flag bearer in the Hong Kong government who is willing to run with the plan and get the different departments on board,' said UK-based George Blake, commercial director of VOR.

Blake said he needed to know by late March whether Hong Kong was on board or not. 'Either some commitment or they let the opportunity go, because we need to proceed with the operational aspects of the race,' he said.

Race organisers are changing the course around the globe in order to give sponsors a shot at the Asian market and the new course would bring them into Victoria Harbour.

But getting the boats to drop anchor would require millions of dollars in sponsorship and an enthusiastic government which believes the race is good for the city.

Deloitte & Touche did a study which found the start of the last VOR at Vigo, Spain, along with nearby inshore races ahead of the start, brought US$56.6 million in 'direct value-added economic benefit' to the region of Galicia, and a further US$20.8 million in indirect benefit.

Plans to bring the race to Hong Kong have been slowed by the Lunar New Year holidays.

One person involved in the scheme said the controversial disciplinary case involving InvestHK chief Mike Rowse - who was fined HK$156,660 for misconduct over his role in the post-Sars 2003 HarbourFest, a series of pop concerts - might be discouraging civil servants from leading the support for another large-scale event such as the ocean race.

VOR will pick three Asian ports from its shortlist of Singapore, Malaysia, Hong Kong, Shanghai and Qingdao. The race historically went through the South Pacific near Australia and New Zealand, but sponsors want boats to sail closer to their target market, namely China.

Qingdao is thought to be a near certainty as a port as a sailing centre has already been built for the 2008 Olympics, while Blake said talks with Singapore were advancing faster than those with Hong Kong.

The Home Affairs Bureau said: 'We have no objection for the Royal Hong Kong Yacht Club or another agent to organise the race. The HAB would assist in facilitating contacts with various departments if necessary.'

VOR ports include a travelling village of sponsor tents, display boats and other public entertainment related to the race.

VOR normally also negotiates for a Euro5 million (HK$51.4 million) 'port rights fee', which basically pays for the pleasure of hosting the race. However, VOR is keen to see Hong Kong, which has the biggest sailing community in Asia, enter a boat in the competition.

'That is to make sure they are serious about it and really will back it,' Blake said. 'It sorts out the men from the boys.' British skipper Matthew Humphries, who has already sailed the race five times, is trying to put together a team and boat that would fly Hong Kong's colours. The cost would be about US$20 million.