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Leading China's Sailing Sport to New Heights

 

Chou Chen

GM of Hainan Ocean Race

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The 鈥淩ound Hainan Regatta鈥 is a world-renowned race because of its high quality. Six years of unremitting efforts have made it an international regatta cultivated by Chinese Yachting Association and now it is a spectacular event for boat sailing fans. Mr. Chou Chen, General Manager of Hainan Ocean Race Co. Ltd., is the back-room guy who has been pushing the race ahead.
 
Interviewed by our reporter, he talked about regattas and sailing sport in China. He has devoted himself to universalizing sailing sport, hosting regattas, and opening training courses for sailing, pushing Chinese boat sailing ahead. With the joint power of 鈥済oing abroad鈥 and 鈥渂ringing ideas,鈥 Mr. Chen is leading 鈥淩ound Hainan Regatta鈥 as well as taking China boat sailing sport to new heights.
 
Q: I鈥檇 like to first congratulate you on your wonderful organization of 鈥淩ound Hainan Regatta鈥 that will be held between 17th and 25th of March, 2017. It is becoming famous around the world. Can you talk to me about the efforts that you have put in making this Regatta more international?
 
Chou: We don鈥檛 really have a long history in holding the Regatta, but we do attach importance to its international promotion and standardization. We took the decision to organize the Regatta internationally from the very start of the competition and maintain international standards in its operation. As young as China sailing races are, boat sailing, as a sport is well-known in America, Europe and Oceania, and standardized operating mode has long been built. I first touched the sailing sport when I was in Spain, in early November, 2011, when Volvo Ocean Race was starting there. It was the first time that we were seeing sailing competitions here and got to know Western sailing traditions. 
 
Coming back, we started taking over this Regatta. Before this Regatta, the previous two competitions were held by the government. We widened our sights and learned a lot in Spain, and have brought new ideas in holding regattas. In internationalizing the sailing race, we have mainly focused on two aspects, one is 鈥済oing abroad鈥 and the other is 鈥渂ringing ideas鈥. 鈥淕oing abroad鈥 refers to visiting and communicating with some of the international boat sailing organizations and introducing our company activities. We鈥檝e communicated with Hong Kong yacht associations as well as local sailing boat clubs and owners. We went to New Zealand and Australia last December in 2016 to promote our regatta to some clubs and attended some annual meetings held by local sailing associations. We have also spoken to Auckland Tourism, Events and Economic Development and communicated with local sailing clubs like Cruising Yacht Club of Australia. During our communication we have promoted our Regatta and Hainan Island.
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Q: From the government鈥檚 point of view, popularizing sailing should be good, but we have seen that this sport is not very popular in China. How do you plan to make more people come to learn sailing and make it a more popular sport?
 
Chou: Universalizing sailing sport takes time and it鈥檚 a process that we should follow. Some other sports can do it easily everywhere and you can see the result every day. The area, equipment, boats and people who can sail are really limited in China. On one hand, China has 1.4 billion people, but on the other hand most of them live in the inland. Also, not every coastal city has the conditions to set up this sport. Some of them don鈥檛 have sailing history and neither do they have boats.
 
Q: Who is the organizer of the 鈥8th Round Hainan Regatta鈥?
 
Chou: It鈥檚 the government of Hainan province and Chinese Yachting Association. 
 
_MG_3763_2.jpgQ: From which year have you gotten involved in this sport?
 
Chou: From 2012 when the 3rd Regatta was held.
 
Q: What is the support provided to you by Hainan government to this Regatta?
 
Chou: The government is strongly supportive. Without the government, it would have been a formidable task for us to develop into what we are today. 
 
Q: Are there any barriers that you are looking forward to breaking in future? I believe holding this Regatta in Hainan isn鈥檛 difficult because of the government鈥檚 support, but developing this sport in future poses plenty of challenges. What aspects do you think are necessary to improve - regulations, policies, local and international promotion?
 
Chou: First of all, the government pays a lot of attention to this Regatta. They hope to, through sport and competitions, reach several goals, including advertising Hainan Island, enriching tourism services and products, promote sea tourism activities and so on.
 
Q: Can you please talk to me about the sailing training classes that help students to learn this sport and at the end get a certificate that would allow them to manage a sailing boat? How do you plan to attract more students?
 
Chou: By holding the competition, we also aim to develop sailing sport. It will attract many sailors, including athletes from Chinese national team that train in Hainan during winter. We have few local people from Hainan practicing this sport. We hope to launch training courses by holding the event, and we have been doing so for about one year. The main aspects involved are: 1: launching activities for tourists traveling to Hainan. Spending a little amount of money, they can experience boat sailing with professional coaches. 2: cooperation with some big companies like Mercedes-Benz and South China Airlines. We do organize boat sailing activities for their staff. 3: Cooperation with schools inviting students to take sailing classes which are mainly in summer and winter vacations. In future, we hope to develop sailing sport in local schools as part of regular Physical Education for students.

Q: Other than holding regattas, what other projects does your company undertake?
 
Chou: Other than regattas, we are also invited for some management work on the competitions. Like last year, we did competition management at the invitation of Fuli Company, a real estate company in Hainan. 

Q: Are there other sports events that you hold except sailing? Like windsurfing, bicycle riding around Hainan?
 
Chou: We also run a bicycle riding competition project which has been held for 11 years. Being the No. 1 international cycling competition of China, it鈥檚 for professional bicycle riding teams worldwide and it鈥檚 listed in International Cycling Union. The bicycle riding competition we run is China鈥檚 most important cycling competition and may be the most important in Asia too.
 
_MG_3748_2.jpgQ: Let鈥檚 go back to the topic of Regatta. How many teams are you expecting this year? Which class do the teams belong?
 
Chou: 50 teams have already been enrolled. This is a big-boat competition, which means they are above 30 feet. We are expecting more teams.
 
Q: How about the portions of the enlisted foreign and domestic sailing teams of the 50 teams?
 
Chou: Foreign teams take up 15% of all. Most of them are from China because it costs a huge amount of money and time for foreign boats to come and participate in China.
 
Q: Is there anything that the government can do to make it easier for foreign teams to enter?
 
Chou: We already have some teams from Hong Kong coming, and we can provide some boats to foreign teams to minimize their difficulty.
 
Q: Are there enough boats for foreign teams?
 
Chou: No, we don鈥檛 have abundant boats currently. So other competitors will have to find the boat by themselves. Even though we tried our best to help them, we cannot guarantee boats for all the athletes.

Q: In future, will it be easier for foreign sailors to compete with their own boats? What are you going to do on that front?
 
Chou: We have been making boats designed for the Regatta since the year 2013. We have only three boats right now; they were designed by Ed Dubois, the famous British yacht designer who pitifully passed away last year. Ed had made some of the world鈥檚 most well-renowned boats; hence the three boats are master-made. They are perfect for competitions, and they have long been booked by competitors. We will build many more sailing boats as we could like these for the sailors.
 
Q: Hainan is located in one of the best parts of the world for sailing. Will you consider holding some international sailing races in future starting from Hainan to other places?
 
Chou: Yes. The negotiation with Vendee Globe is in process. We have undertaken Volvo Ocean Race in Sanya, and we will undertake two Clipper Races, and in cooperation with the government, we are bidding for the 2017 World Youth Sailing Championships and other similar projects all of which are the works that we do in the sailing field.
 
Q: You have many plans for the future, so which kind of sector do you think you will focus more on in competitions held in Hainan - Big boats or Small boats?
 
Chou: Both. They are as equally important to me. Small boats suit teenagers, while big boats are used for long distance sailing. They are of the same power in advancing sailing sport.

Q: China is one of the biggest sea shipping transporters of the world; I hope China will be one of the best sailing countries in future.
 
Chou: As what I鈥檝e been said before, we have 1.4 billion people in China, I believe more of them will be interested and will join this sport. We don鈥檛 hope it to be a mass sport; instead, we hope more people can get involved in it. It is also a sign of life standard lifting, which means that they are leading a well-off life and having more pursuits, and that they can afford this sport.
 
Q: Do you think there will be more sportive sea ports in Hainan to meet the demands?
 
Chou: There are already many ports and wharfs in Hainan, and new ones are under planning and construction. However these ports and wharfs can be quite costly for they are mostly private owned. So we need more public wharfs than private ones for our citizenry. The government is also aware of this problem and plans are on their way. It takes time for plans to be carried out, though; we are looking forward to seeing them being implemented soon.
 
Q: Are cash rewards a tool to attract competitors to the Regatta?
 
Chou: It鈥檚 a good question. Rewards are not involved in western sailing competitions which highlight challenges and dignity of individuals. However, for sailing to make a good start in China, a certain amount of reward is necessary for stimulating its development. And of course, a good part of our sailors don鈥檛 really care about the rewards. 
 
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