Even if AC34 dispenses only a handful of truly competitive teams which is the way it’s lining up to be currently (thinking ORACLE Racing, Artemis Racing and Emirates Team NZ), there’s no lack of enthusiasm among the less established teams, and for one of those teams - China Team - no lack of funding. In fact, I think large amounts of both enthusiasm and dollars can probably take a team a long way, and it appears that China Team’s Thierry Barot, CEO, concurs.
“In terms of sponsorship, we have over 50% of the budget that we need,” 53-year old Barot said. “We are very lucky - in China we are on the top of the biggest marketing wave in the world. When you see what China did with the Olympics it gives you an idea as to how the country will support us. When the Chinese decide to do something, they make the decision and go all out. It’s impressive.”
Barot’s history with yachting in China goes back to 1987 when, after racing on French Kiss in Fremantle in the 27th America’s Cup, he ended up in China managing yachts and related services. Barot, who is from Montauban, a small country city in southwest France known for its interest in rugby and not sailing, returned to Europe and back to professional sailing in 1998. In 2004, he was offered work back in China and subsequently became involved with China Team for the 32nd America’s Cup in Valencia.
Barot says the new China Team in no way resembles the previous version, which was run by the former French syndicate Le Defi along with Mr. Wang Chao Yong, the current China Team investor. Barot received a call last November from Mr. Wang Chao Yong to see if he would lead a new China Team program, and immediately began putting together the Team. “Today, it is really a 100% Chinese program, with just a little outside knowledge,” Barot explained.
The sailing team will be Chinese and Barot admits that this will be challenging, simply because the sport is relatively new in China and the talent just not quite there - yet. “We have to be realistic but the yachting scene in China is developing very fast,” he said. “I did a regatta last summer in Qing Dao and was surprised to see the marina there completely full - people and boats everywhere - it was like, “wow - something’s happening here! The sport is growing like that every day here.”
Since the Beijing Olympics, Barot says China motivated to become more involved in professional sports and the next target was the America’s Cup. He explained that the Team’s development is more of a national concern, drawing upon expertise from national operations such as a huge technology-oriented sports academy in Beijing and some of the top hydro and aerodynamic technology people in China. “It’s like in New Zealand in a way - sports is a national concern - when the team wins, all the nation is there, when they lose, all the nation is there.”
He’s currently working with a core group of five guys - ex-Tornado and F-18 sailors as well as some match racers from around the world - who, for now, make up the core sailing team and act as coaches. Working with this group, he plans to build the sailing team in China with some 50 athletes, sailors and non-sailors, “who are up for the adventure, perhaps former rowers, rugby players,” he said.
China Team will also set up camp as early as this summer in San Francisco partly to look for more talent. “We are looking for North American sailors of Chinese origin and the west coast of the US has the biggest Chinese community outside of China so it’s a great place for us to recruit from.”
Barot’s already requested space for a base in San Francisco from America’s Cup Race Management. “We would like to spend two months in San Francisco this summer to start meeting the local community because we know there is a big interest in our team, and to meet some local sailors and get to know the conditions.”
He wouldn’t disclose what boat China Team will train on in San Francisco, “I can’t disclose at the moment what boat it is but it’s fantastic! I’ve been working long hours to make all this happen…”
San Francisco is also important to China Team for other reasons. Barot said he’s in discussion with North American companies regarding sponsorship. The Team’s been heartily welcomed by China SF, a non profit partnership between the San Francisco’s Mayor’s office and the San Francisco Office for Economic Development, whose charter it is to help bridge economic opportunity between China and San Francisco. Ginny Fang, China SF Executive Director said, “I hope that as they bring together their team of sponsors and businesses that support the Team that there’ll be a lot of Chinese businesses involved which will be a wonderful tie-in between the two countries and specifically San Francisco.”
For now, on April 18 China Team starts its first week of training in Auckland on the AC 45. A multihull sailor from way back, Barot was lucky enough to get out on the AC 45 in February with Dean Barker and the Team NZ boys and was blown away by the performance of the boat. “It was wild! I was impressed by the boat as well as all the work that the guys from Core technology and ACEA have done in such a short time - it’s amazing. I don’t think people realize what has been accomplished with this boat.”