Sailing picks up in Asia as European sponsors pull out

Reuters, KUALA LUMPUR

Sat, Dec 22, 2012 - Page 19

Like many other professional sports, sailing was not spared by the 2008 global financial crisis as sponsors in Europe pulled out and governments were not keen to host large-scale tournaments.

However, halfway across the world, Asia’s resilient economy fueled by strong domestic consumption from a rapidly growing population raised hope of providing the boost the ailing sport needed to tread Europe’s rough water.

The World Match Racing Tour, an international sailing championship which first kicked off more than two decades ago, was facing bankruptcy following the eurozone debt crisis when Malaysian businessman Patrick Lim picked it up.

“Because of the financial crisis, it was in a state of almost neglect by the time we bought over,” Lim told reporters in an interview in Kuala Lumpur.

Lim said although the “traditional” sailing countries in Europe were keen on the sport, they could no longer afford to host the tour, which can chalk up to US$6 million per venue.

Whereas Asian countries, said Lim, despite being fairly new to sailing would grab the opportunity to host a world championship for the tourism dollars and to notch an identity in the global sports arena.

“The Asian economy views sport very differently. They look at it as a platform to launch a product,” Lim said.

“They want to stand out in the world, and sport is a good platform,” he added, citing China as an example.

However, the biggest global sponsors still come from Europe, where large corporations eye robust Asian markets to expand their businesses.

In February, London-based global foreign exchange broker Alpari inked a title sponsorship deal with the sailing regatta, joining sportscar maker Lotus and British top-end jewelers Garrard as the tour’s main sponsors.

Lim said it needed more than just deep pockets to host a world championship as venues need to be up to the mark with the right infrastructure and boats.

“In Asia, while they can afford it, they still need time to set things up,” the 47-year-old Lim said, adding that the tour helps smaller sailing communities in South Korea, Malaysia and Singapore to set up their own racing circuits to develop the sport in the region.

To boost viewership and rekindle interest in the tour, he revamped venues so that races could take place closer to shore. Previous championships were held in deeper seas, far away from spectators which Lim said could be “boring.”