Volvo Ocean Race Chooses Newport, Feels Baltimore’s Fury

Volvo Ocean Race in Miami.

Volvo Ocean Race in Miami.

The Volvo Ocean Race made its decision with regards to the North American stopover of the 2014-2015 edition of the Volvo Ocean Race, and Newport, Rhode Island, was crowned victor. Newport was competing against Baltimore, Md., arguably one of the nation’s powerhouses when it comes to sailing.

The decision almost immediately drew ire from the Baltimore organizing committee.

Room for one

According to the Baltimore organizing committee, Ocean Racing USA, Volvo “recently awarded the US stopover to our team and the City of Baltimore … Long after the formal bid process was closed, and after months of saying the Race would visit Baltimore in April, the VOR told Baltimore that the only date that the Race could arrive was in late May, over the Preakness weekend.”

Needless to say, Baltimore declined, and the Race then moved to Newport.

The Preakness Stakes is a Maryland tradition, having run every year since 1909, later becoming the middle event in the Triple Crown, behind the Kentucky Derby, and ahead of the Belmont Stakes, thoroughbred racing’s longest event by distance. According to the Baltimore Sun, Volvo organizers “were told repeatedly that the race and tens of thousands of spectators could be accommodated any week in spring 2015 except Preakness week.”

The assertion is understandable. The Preakness is practically written into Maryland’s DNA; it’s just something that happens, and no one questions it. It’s arguably Maryland’s greatest sporting event. Surely the Volvo Ocean Race could work around that, right?

Wrong.

Volvo Ocean Race in Miami.

Volvo Ocean Race in Miami.

The ultimatum

According to Rob Housman, leader of Ocean Racing USA, the withdrawal was entirely unexpected. “It would be discouraging to work hard on something and lose, but clearly they moved the finish line. We won on the merits of our bid and that’s a fact,” says Housman.

According to the Sun, the Volvo Ocean Race originally agreed to Ocean Racing USA’s suggested timeframe, April 24 – May 10. The Sun calls this window “the same … as in previous stopovers,” however this is incorrect. In the last edition of the race, the Miami stopover was scheduled between May 6 – 20, and was executed between those dates. It seems to reason that it wouldn’t be all that unusual to have a stopover around the same timeframe as that of last year’s.

But here’s where things sorta get really crazy. Knut Frostad, Volvo Ocean Race CEO, allegedly wrote a letter to the Baltimore organizing committee, saying, “We are really delighted to once again welcome Baltimore as a city in the Volvo Ocean Race. We have both visited Baltimore as race entries in the past and have great memories from those races … We very much look forward to creating a hugely successful event and positive partnership with Baltimore and starting preparations with you.”

However, as negotiations about the date progressed, it became clear that Ocean Racing USA’s proposed timeline was no longer on the table. Despite initially offering up “the week before” (the proposed dates of April 24 – May 10), it is ORUSA’s assertion that the Volvo Ocean Race soon narrowed the date to … the Preakness weekend, the one date that Housman and is counterparts had repeatedly said was off limits.

According to a statement posted on the ORUSA website, “The VOR is so time limited for the 2014-2015 cycle primarily because of the presidential elections in Brazil (and the long-term commitment regarding high season in Alicante, Spain) [sic].”

The ramifications

When the Preakness weekend was offered up by the Volvo Ocean Race, Baltimore mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake urged the Race organizers to reconsider, highlighting the impossibility of running two major events at the same time, and warning that the Volvo Ocean Race would undoubtedly lose media coverage to the Preakness. Mayor Rawlings-Blake wrote, “… Baltimore will only commit to an event if we are ready and able to guarantee success. And, to be clear, we cannot guarantee, and therefore cannot support the VOR on Preakness weekend.”

On February 1, the Volvo Ocean Race issued its final ultimatum to Baltimore: either commit to hosting the Race on Preakness week, or commit to nothing. Later that day, Newport’s organizing committee received a call alerting them to the fact that they had been awarded the 2014-2015 bid.

What is perhaps most disheartening about the whole situation is that Baltimore will lose out on the chance to host one of sailing’s largest events in 2015, a boost that the city dearly needs.

This post relies on assertions made in The Baltimore Sun and by Ocean Racing USA, which Racing Winds Media cannot independently verify as being correct. Some quotes appeared originally in The Baltimore Sun.

Photos by Taylor Michie / Racing Winds Media.

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