Galway to host Volvo Ocean race


Taoiseach Brian Cowen has welcomed the return of the prestigious international Volvo Ocean race to Galway in 2012.

The Government has committed €4 million to the event, through Fáilte Ireland’s international sports tourism initiative.

“Given its economic benefits and importance to Irish tourism, I am more than happy to welcome the return of the Volvo Ocean race to our shores and pledge our support,” Mr Cowen said in Dublin today, where the formal deal was signed with the Volvo Ocean Race organisers.

The international yacht race generated almost €60 million in revenue when it stopped in Ireland for the first time ever last year, attracting some 650,000 people to Galway.

This time it beat off stiff competition to secure the finishing leg on the 2011-12 route. The Galway selection effectively means that the Volvo 70 fleet will not visit a Scandinavian port for the first time since Volvo began sponsoring the event, formerly known as the Whitbread round world yacht race.

It is also expected that up to several hundred representatives from competing team sponsor companies may form part of the 2012 race village, having avoided the west of Ireland during the 2009 stopover.

Four European ports – Alicante, Spain, Lisbon in Portugal, Lorient in France, Galway - have been confirmed to date for the 2011-2012 route, full details of which will be rolled out by the end of this month. It is expected that the race will stop in China and the US, while South Africa’s Capetown has also already been confirmed as a host port.

Up to 12 yachts may compete, including Ireland’s Green Dragon, and the fleet will sail its final leg to Galway from Lorient, which is twinned with the west coast capital.

“The interest in hosting the Volvo Ocean Race, particularly in Europe, has been quite overwhelming” Volvo Ocean Race chief executive officer Knut Frostad has said.

However, he told The Irish Times that every effort would be made to maintain the shore festival as a free public event. “We just hope that we also get the weather – the fleet will be a little later arriving into Ireland next time,”he said.

“We are looking forward to bringing the competition to its conclusion in a country that really knows how to celebrate,” Mr Frostad added.

Let’s Do It Global chairman Enda O’Coineen said that for Ireland to win back the event is a smart move. "The smart economy is not simply about science and technology, it is about connecting our island in the North Atlantic with the world, leveraging our 2,000 miles of coastline, global diaspora, enterprise, employment, youth education, development, food and, of course tourism for a quick win and economic return on investment," he said.

Fáilte Ireland chairman Redmond O’Donoghue said that the tourism board said that “events such as this provide us with the ideal calling card to showcase our two strongest assets – our beautiful coastal landscapes and friendly people.”

Irish Hotels Federation (IHF) president Paul Gallagher predicted that the stopover would attract up to 40,000 overseas visitors and injectup to €80 million in tourism income. “Hoteliers look forward to working with Fáilte Ireland and Tourism Ireland… to maximise the tourism benefits to the local and national economy,” Mr Gallagher said.

IHF Galway branch chairman Paul Gill paid tribute today to Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs Éamon Ó Cuív and Let’s Do It Galway chairman John Killeen for “their tireless energy and commitment in helping to secure the 2012 finale for Galway”.

An Irish youth team will be selected to train for the Green Dragon, which came fifth overall in last year’s race. The yacht will be fitted with a new keel, its sails will also be modified, and all this work will be carried out in Ireland, Mr Killeen said.

Key infrastructure such as pontoons and swinging moorings is also in place in Galway docks, but the organisers still face a challenge to raise sufficient sponsorship.

The 2008-9 Irish crew skippered by British yachtsman Ian Walker had to accept a wage cut halfway through the route. Total bill for the actual entry, including boat construction, is believed to have cost €15 million.

Kerry’s Damian Foxall, who was, with bowman Justin Slattery, central to the Green Dragon team, has already been signed up by the French entry next time. The French Groupama team has purchased Ericsson 4, which won the 2009 race.

Some 1.3 billion viewers are believed to have watched the event on television between 2008 and 2009.

Galway is also due to host start and finish for this year’s Around Ireland Powerboat Race from June 7th to 12th. The powerboat race will stop in Killybegs, Co Donegal; Bangor, Co Down; Waterford and Fenit, Co Kerry on its route back into Galway.