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Interview with Madame Zhang, Chairwoman of the Chinese Sailing Association

by Peter Rendle 4 Dec 2017 12:31 UTC
China Cup 2017 © China Cup / Studio Borlenghi / spoke to Madame Zhang, Chairwoman of the Chinese Sailing Association, about sailing in China, its growth and the country's plans for the future in the sport.

MarineBusinessWorld: Approximately how many people are actively involved in sailing nowadays in China?

Madame Zhang: China is a young and dynamic country in terms of sailing as a sport. With a population of 1.3 billion, sailing is still currently a niche sport here, however, it has enormous potential. It is only within the last 10 years that China has started to explore and promote sailing as a lifestyle option. Right now, we are carrying out relevant research and data collection in this area. In terms of active participants, China accounts for a small proportion of the global sailing population.

MarineBusinessWorld: What is the projected number of participants in the next 20 years?

Madame Zhang: China has plentiful resources for water sports, not only including coastal cities, but also inland lakes. All are fantastic locations for the future development of sailing. In the past 12 months, over 70 sailing competitions/events have taken place in China, covering different classes. We have also witnessed many cities, geographically advantaged because of their water resources, developing water sports tourism through the organization of sailing events, the establishment of more clubs, and the introduction of water sports programs in schools. These cities will therefore become the main drivers in developing this sport. In the next 20 years, we anticipate the number of people taking part in sailing to reach 7 digits.

MarineBusinessWorld: How many sailing and yacht clubs are there in China?

Madame Zhang: 20 years ago, China only had one yacht club. With incomplete statistics, the total number of clubs currently in the country may have reached a three-digit figure. We, the Chinese Yachting Association, are going to initiate a club registration system by the end of this year.

MarineBusinessWorld: Are the Olympic Games the most important challenge for sailors in China?

Madame Zhang: Being able to represent one's own country at the Olympic Games, in my opinion, is an extremely important challenge for any athlete. More importantly, however, we need more reserves of top-level athletes and, at the same time, effectively help them to achieve their career development in a sustainable manner.

MarineBusinessWorld: What proportion of dinghy sailors are there to keelboat sailors?

Madame Zhang: In recent years, the market trend for dinghy training, aimed at younger generations, has been quite positive. Many clubs are working with schools to promote sailing and popularize the basic knowledge of sailing; therefore, the total number of dinghy sailors is comparatively greater than that of keelboat ones. However, our true focus is on the conversion rate from dinghy sailors to keelboat sailors, and this needs to be introduced and carried out via a professional and standard system. Whether adolescents can bring their interest in sailing into adulthood or not, really is a hot topic facing the world's sailing community.

MarineBusinessWorld: How important are international events, such as the Volvo Ocean Race or Sydney to Hobart Yacht Race, regarded?

Madame Zhang: China has always held an open attitude towards international events and view them as a way to learn, so we therefore welcome such events coming to China. Since 2008-09, the Volvo Ocean Race (VOR) has successfully established Qingdao and Sanya as China stops. This year, the VOR will stop in Hong Kong and Guangzhou. We have good connections with international events, such as the Americas Cup, WMRT, the Clipper Race, Sydney to Hobart Yacht Race (SHYR), and so on. The trophies for SHYR and the Americas Cup were debuted in China this year, which also reflects the importance of international competitions to the Chinese market. All relevant parties in China have made an incredible effort to make all these international events happen, however we do not just want to put on a show for spectators here; we are also keen to bring real opportunities and platforms that enable sailors and all relevant stakeholders to communicate with our international sailing peers.

MarineBusinessWorld: Will China be staging international events, such as the world championships for one design class?

Madame Zhang: To date, we have over 10 international events taking place in China. We just held the World Sailing Nacra 17 Championship in Shanghai at the end of October.

MarineBusinessWorld: Is China's participation in world events likely to grow?

Madame Zhang: Yes, of course.

MarineBusinessWorld: Why is Australia an attractive venue for Chinese sailors?

Madame Zhang: Australia has the opposite seasons to China. Therefore during the Chinese winter, I believe our sailors would be keen to sail in Australia. Moreover, the Australian sailing club culture is quite attractive, since it makes sailors happy.

MarineBusinessWorld: How can Australia assist in the development of the Chinese Sailing Association?

Madame Zhang: Australia is a country where you can sail all year round, so it brings together many of the world's top sailors, a rich sailing culture, professional sailing event organizations, navigational safety systems and a well-established base for wide-scale sailing training. These are all exactly what we need to learn about from Australia.

MarineBusinessWorld: Will we be seeing many Chinese sailors visiting Australia to gain experience?

Madame Zhang: We noticed that four Chinese sailing teams participated in the Sydney to Hobart Yacht Race last year, and also the first ever delegation from the Guangzhou Yachting Association travelled to Sydney to undertake training and gain event experience. We expect more opportunities to follow in future, which will allow Chinese sailors to embark on further sailing and sailing culture exchanges in Australia.

MarineBusinessWorld: Are other countries involved in the development of Chinese sailing?

Madame Zhang: The development of sailing in China would not have got this far without the support of our international sailing peers from around the world. Whether international sailing events or daily club activities, we have had active international involvement in China's sailing community. With the aim of creating a healthy and sustainable future for this sport here in China, we are considering to establish an international think-tank for sailing in China, and invite world-class experts and senior professionals to join us in collaboratively drawing up a strategic blueprint for the future.

MarineBusinessWorld: Are sailing schools seen as a way to grow participation in the sport in China?

Madame Zhang: Currently in China, we are still in the early stages of introducing the concept of "What Is Sailing?" to the general public. With the support of relevant departments and governments at all levels, we are now conducting our "Introducing sailing into campus" campaign in many cities across China, to include sailing as a part of current extracurricular activities for schools. We really hope to expand the scale of this project in the coming years, while at the same time standardizing training content.

MarineBusinessWorld: What type of boats, including both dinghies and yachts, are seen as the way for mass participation?

Madame Zhang: The choice of boat type depends on the different water conditions. To enable more people to enjoy sailing, it is vital to ensure the whole experience is interesting, fun and fulfilling. Upgraded soft-skills and infrastructure are required to increase the intangible benefits of sailing.

MarineBusinessWorld: Are clean ocean principles taught to your sailing youth?

Madame Zhang: We continue to work on this, but obviously more has to be done. We also hope more time and money can be invested in this in future. This is a project of vital and long-lasting importance, and we hope all members of the international community can come together with us in support and involvement in this, so as to co-create a better future for sailing.

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