I think that this is my fourth attempt to start this Blog - and I blame it all on the Olympics!
In the midst of all the post Games euphoria, I suppose that this is a good time for me to crawl out from under my stone and confess that I was an Olympic sceptic. When the bid was first won, I was living during the week in London and the then Mayor, Ken Livingstone, announced that there would be a surcharge on London rates to pay for it. And that was before the pre-bid estimated costs almost doubled to over £9 billion. I don’t even know how many noughts that is, but it is a lot! I remember regretting that Paris had not won the pitch and they could put up the cash and with all the ensuing upheaval and kerfuffle! I could just pop across on Eurostar if I wanted to take in any of the events.
In the run up to the Games we had the virtual hysteria of the Torch relay and I thought that if I heard one more over excited grockle screaming in some wind and rain swept backwater: “It’s so emotional: it’s a once in a lifetime experience!” I would commit hara-kiri! Some people’s lifetimes must be very short, for I recall the Torch winding its way round the UK just four years ago, before the Beijing Games. Indeed, I actually saw a change over in Wimbledon, when the torch was escorted by a team of Chinese spooks, who allegedly had priority over our own police force. Now, I hope that really was a once in a lifetime experience!
And then we had the opening ceremony: a mixture of flashes of genius with the totally bizarre and I wondered what the good folks of Oklahoma, Mexico, Brazil, let alone Kashmir or Kazakhstan could possibly have made of all this. Probably confirming what they suspected all along: that the Brits are completely and utterly bonkers! And our glorious Queen not only played a starring role, but sat stoically through the whole damn thing: even after I had succumbed when the Indian team had processed into the stadium. Whatever, the audience figures in Jamaica could not have been all that great, because as Clive James wittily observed, half their population appeared to be over here competing in sprint finals!
But then the competitions started, with the Men’s Cycle Road Race being the first major one: hot on the heels of Bradley Wiggins’ and Chris Froome’s extraordinary triumphs in the Tour de France. The enthusiasm of those enormous crowds along almost the entire route through Surrey was completely infectious – and I was hooked, despite Mark Cavendish not gaining his expected gold medal. But Wiggins won the Time Trial and became the only man to win the Tour de France and an Olympic Gold in the same year. The whole cycling programme was so competitive and exciting, from a British perspective, but what really transfixed me was the rowing at Eton Dorney, which was not only ultra competitive, but the wall of sound that greeted the competitors in the last 300 metres must have been electrifying. And those rowers gave every bit of energy and guts they had – and more; scarcely being able to crawl out of their boats at the end of their races. It also provided what for me was the quote of the Games, when Sophie Hosking & Katherine Copeland unexpectedly won the double sculls and Kat gasped to her crewmate on the finish line: “My god, we’ve just won the Olympics! We’re going to be on a stamp!” It all made for fantastic television, which is more than I can say of the sailing, when even I struggled to make much sense of what was going on and where the next turning mark was. I know that my uninitiated friends were totally flummoxed. At least for me, the Ben Ainslie medal race was worth watching.
But this blog is not really about a resumé of the Olympics, other than to use it as an excuse why I have had to change my attitude to them 180 degrees since I started to write the first edition of this some 5 weeks ago. I am now eating copious amounts of humble pie and hats, or whatever, and freely admit that the whole event was generally an outstanding success. Leaving aside the standard of the athletes and performers and talking of hats, I take mine off to the BBC, who provided fantastic coverage of all the diverse events simultaneously and I hope that the guy who led that whole exercise gets the recognition he or she deserves. Also, whoever designed the breathtaking light shows on both opening and closing nights, including that cauldron! Volunteers rightly got huge plaudits and were a magnificent example of what thousands of people do every week of their lives in the UK, without any plaudits at all, but the ‘gold medal’ surely must go to Lord Coe and his team of planners who provided what seemed to be a totally seamless organisation for what amounted to twenty plus totally different world championships in diverse venues, all within the same two weeks. These things don’t just happen naturally. Even at a relatively small event like Cowes Week, there are hordes of people beavering away to make it all happen that competitors never see; let alone the watching public. I think that what Lord Coe and LOCOG achieved was truly astonishing, serenely overcoming the inevitable glitches along the way; not least the potential PR disaster of G4S’ security contract and pulling in additional members of the Armed Forces at the twelfth hour to make up the numbers. How those guys must have loved that experience and by all accounts they were brilliant.
The other issue that seemed to crop up a lot was how the core Sponsors were creaming off all the best bits. Not only did they get the best seats, but their marketing rights were over protective and denying their competition the opportunity to cash in on the Games. Of course, what the moaners conveniently forget is that these sponsors were absolutely key to the financing of the Olympics and paid serious millions not long after the bid was won to provide seed corn money for the fledgling organisation. I think that LOCOG would like to have had more of them, but no one else was prepared to stump up the cash. So I say, good luck to the likes of Lloyds Banking Group, the UPS’ and even the Big Mac’s of this world for putting their money where their mouth was years ago and I am with them when they got sniffy about companies who hadn’t contributed a cent trying to get in on the act.
Which brings me, in a rather convoluted way, to the BNY Mellon Challenge! We are fortunate in having two great sponsors for our race. Clearly BNY Mellon are not sponsoring JOG to the level of the Olympics, but I look upon them as having equal importance, as I do our Associate Sponsor, Andy Hill of Clanfield Properties, because quite simply, without them we would not be running this exciting race to Cascais. It is of real importance to me that both BNY and Clanfield believe that they are getting real value out of their sponsorship and it is not merely a matter of handing over some cash and walking away. That is not to say that we want sponsors to trample all over us and completely alter the ethos of the event. That can mean managing any unrealistic expectations and the best way of doing that is to establish good and trusting relationships with the sponsor. Not, I should emphasise, that BNY or Clanfield have had any unrealistic expectations, but I still like to keep the dialogue going, especially with Geoff Wenden, our primary contact at BNY, who has to report upwards to a huge monolithic organisation. So sporadic meetings are useful to make sure that we are both on the same wavelength going forward. Sorry: that sounds just like a line straight out of that brilliant TV spoof Twenty Twelve! I commend that to you, if you haven’t seen it.
About three years ago I helped Geoff Wenden set up a Corporate Day that BNY have since put on annually during Cowes Week, when they charter the 200 ton pleasure boat Princess Caroline and bring 70/80 clients from the financial services industry to the Royal Southampton YC for breakfast, then out on the PC to have a wonderful lunch and watch the racing, before coming back to the RSYC for a cream tea. I support Geoff as a sort of compere for the day and on 16 August it was good to have JOG Secretary Peter Chartres join us on board, as did Associate Sponsor Andy Hill and Fiona Cloke from JOG. It was a great opportunity for Peter, especially, to meet Geoff for the first time and cement the new relationship between BNY and JOG. Two other members of our Race Management Team were also on board. Mike Short had just returned from judging at the European Youth Championships in Denmark, having previously officiated at the Sail for Gold regatta in Weymouth and the J80 Worlds in Dartmouth. Our Race PRO Dave Giddings had just finished his three day stint as CRO of the Royal Southampton contingent for the first Triumvirate of Cowes Week.
(L-R, Mike Short, Dave Giddings, Geoff Wenden, Peter Chartres, Andy Hill, Roger Townsend)
We all had a great day and I know that Geoff was thrilled with the outcome. BNY will be chartering Princess Caroline again for the start of our race next June and entertaining yet more clients, but not until after entertaining our competitors to a Pre-Start Reception.
I am also happy to report that both our major sponsors have kindly already paid up, so not only is the race fully funded, but we have the cash in the bank almost a year before the Start! We have perhaps other things in common with the recent Olympics. I have absolute confidence in our Race Management Team to organise a top quality event (I hope that is not tempting fate too much!) and of course we are all Volunteers, working with the same enthusiasm to deliver all that our sponsors - and most importantly, our competitors expect.
All we need now to complete the party is a goodly number of competitors. We know that it is tough in the current circumstances to attract entries to midscale offshore races, as the Royal Southern have recently discovered with their Biscay Race, but the RMT will be doing their bit to keep the Race in front of potential customers at every opportunity. MOCRA Treasurer Tim Wilson has organised a plug for us in their current newsletter and Andy Hill is organising a distribution of the Race poster to every yacht club in northern and western Europe (excluding Finland!) which will certainly spread the name of JOG far beyond these shores. But everyone can help to spread the word, merely by telling their mates about the Race. I want to get a bumper turnout, for the first leg to La Trinité in particular, and ‘word of mouth’ is the best form of advertising. And if you are remotely interested in doing any part of the Race yourself, please do register that interest with me or Peter Chartres. There is no commitment at this stage, but nothing encourages others more to consider entering than seeing similar boats doing so. We are already into double figures, but I would like to see more.
Enjoy the end of your summer!
Race Director – BNY Mellon Challenge 2013