World Match Racing Tour: Changing The Game
We take a look at the newly resuscitated World Match Racing Tour and it's controversial switch from monohull to M32 multihulls and hear from new WMRT owner Hakan Svensson and the top two match racers in the world at the moment - reigning WMRT champion Ian Williams and the young pretender to the crown Taylor Canfield.
Once the de facto proving ground for aspiring America’s Cup skippers, in recent years the World Match Racing Tour has struggled to maintain its significance in the increasingly high-adrenaline landscape of our sport.
While competitive sailing’s three keystone events – the Olympics, the America’s Cup and the Volvo Ocean Race – all switched gears to faster and more exciting boats to keep the competitors and fans engaged, the WMRT somehow got caught in the long grass, as it plugged away resolutely with its tried and tested format.
In the face of high-speed Olympic skiffs, foiling America’s Cup catamarans and 600-mile per day Volvo Ocean Race yachts, the comparatively pedestrian pace of the Tour just couldn’t match up.
As one notable professional skipper – who shall remain nameless – put it succinctly to me last year: “I just don’t see the attraction of sailing around at five knots all day, waving flags at each other,” he said.
That’s not to say the Tour didn’t attract a high calibre of competitors and that the racing wasn’t top notch. The Tour’s top teams are without doubt among the finest match racing protagonists the world has to offer. However, despite the best efforts of a string of different owners the tour has gradually faded from the sailing public’s collective consciousness.
That perception of the tour may well be set to change, however, after its acquisition last year by Swedish businessman Håkan Svensson. The dynamic and charismatic entrepreneur knows a thing or two about how to rejuvenate an ailing business; in 1999 he and his father bought the bankrupt shipping propeller manufacturer BERG Propulsion and turned it around to such an extent that in 2013 they there was a line of high profile corporate organisations lining up to buy it from them.
Svensson is no stranger to professional sailing either, having co-funded Ken Read’s PUMA Ocean Racing campaign in the 2011-12 Volvo Ocean Race via BERG Propulsion marketing dollars.
When I spoke to him shortly after the deal went through he told me that he had fallen in love with the professional sailing world and had bought the Tour because he wanted to return it to its former glory as “an event that mattered and one where people cared about who wins it”.
He told me he believed the tour has lost its way in the last decade but said he was confident it could be restored to it to its rightful place as one of competitive sailing’s most prestigious events.
In contrast to the tour’s previous owners over the years who had used it primarily as a vehicle for corporate marketing and hospitality and altered little about the sporting format, Svensson made several swingeing changes right off the bat. The biggest by far is a switch from... READ THE FULL ARTICLE