According to the official line, Malaysia’s former prime minister, Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, was on a fishing trip in Terengganu during the monsoon season when he got the inspiration to create an event that would help break the misconception about the region. Tourism in the state of Terengganu in particular and the eastern coast of Malaysia in general is marked by clear seasonality, with the monsoon season considered a dead period avoided by tourists.
So, in what has become a very frequent trend in the last 10-15 years, a sailing event has been used in order to either promote a coastal city or region or renovate a dilapidated area of a port city. It was done in Auckland, it was done in Valencia and numerous cities around the world host or hosted events of the Extreme Sailing Series, the Alpari World Match Racing Tour or the former AUDI Medcup, hoping to put their names on the world map. Some are more successful than others and the jury is still out as to whether these investments, at times topping hundreds of million of euros, provide indeed the promised return but it is an undeniable fact there is a clear trend. Whether we like it or not, a number of sailing events wouldn’t have existed if some cities didn’t put the monies up to bring them in their port.
In a typically Asian way, once the decision was taken in 2005 to create a match racing event and incorporate it into the World Match Racing Tour, within a year organizers had in place an enormous purpose-built marina and all the related buildings. Racing was to take place within the estuary of the Terengganu river and provide a natural sailing stadium, a term that has become so fashionable in sailing nowadays. They wanted to make a strong statement that major international events could be held there even during the month of December when
This is the fourth edition of the event that I cover and when I first came here in 2009 I had absolutely no idea where Kuala Terengganu was located, let alone that one could hold an international regatta there. I couldn’t, obviously, claim that Kuala Terengganu is Nice, Barcelona, Lisbon, Miami or Valencia because it simply isn’t. However, it is encouraging to see major sailing events held in non-traditional markets, far away from the main venues of the world. Hopefully, this will boost interest in the sport of sailing in those countries and something will finally trickle down from the presence of twelve top international sailing teams in the city.
That was exactly the goal Monsoon Cup organizers had last year when they conceived the Malaysian Match Racing Circuit. Although there is pool of good, talented sailors who compete in Optimists and Lasers in Malaysia, practically all of them retire very young, when they start their university studies and get a “real” job. With a handful of exceptions it is impossible to be a fully-professional sailor in this Asian country. Suffice to say that Malaysia had just one sailor in the Weymouth Olympics last summer, Khairulnizam Mohd Afendy, who finished 47th in the Laser class! Therefore, there is shortage of competitive keelboat sailors. Wan Hisham, vice president of the Malaysian Yachting Association (MYA) and director of T-Best, the company that organizes the Monsoon Cup, saw it as an opportunity to develop the sport in their country.
Up to last year’s edition, the Malaysian skipper that participated in the Monsoon Cup was decided in a 5-day qualifying regatta, held a couple of weeks before the main event. Although it attracted the country’s top match racers, this one-week event was probably their one and only occasion throughout the year to race at a highly competitive level. That was then reflected in the abysmal distance from the other international skippers and scoring just one victory against any of them was considered an enormous success.
It was obvious that one single event per year wasn’t enough to build a long-term and consistent base in the sport. Skippers needed more practice, more events and more visibility that could potentially help them secure some sponsorship as well. That’s where the MYA and T-Best jointly conceived the Malaysian Match Racing Circuit, a series of four events held throughout Malaysia. There was strong interest and a total of 7 crews took part in the circuit from May to September. As expected, Jeremy Koo was crowned champion and is currently representing Malaysia in the Monsoon Cup. No miracles should be expected from this opening season but it is an important stepping stone, a basis to build upon for the future development. For example, Koo is now backed by the famous fast food chain KFC and their support will certainly help him race more within Malaysia and abroad.
For 2013 organizers hope to attract new venues and expand the circuit with more events and, more importantly, more sailors. Their efforts will be focused on marketing the circuit, getting more media value for their sponsors and attracting new ones. Longer term, the MYA has set a goal of having one Malaysian match racer that will be fully participating in the Alpari World Match Racing Tour. It will also expand its network of sailing schools across the country. It currently has ten with more than 200 children in each one and hopefully, more of them will represent their country in the future Olympics. There will not be any overnight miracles and it will be long and tedious process but such initiatives are much-needed, especially when sailing is under tremendous pressure in its “traditional” Mediterranean countries because of the financial crisis there.