Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Portimao Match Cup: Portugal's top sailing event

The Portimao Portugal Match Cup, stage 4 of the 2010 World Match Racing Tour, came to a successful end on Sunday when "old master" Peter Gilmour beat his "young apprentice" Torvar Mirsky in an all-Perth final. Valencia Sailing spoke with Justino de Sá Machado, promoter of what is one of the longest-standing events of the Tour, not only about Portugal's premiere sailing event but also about his plan of developing match racing and sailing in Portimao.

Valencia Sailing: Let's start briefly with the history of the event and how it evolved into Portugal's premiere sailing event.
Justino de Sá Machado: The Portugal Match Cup started back in 2004, when the circuit was called Swedish Match Tour, with the financial backing of major Portuguese groups as well as Portugal Tourism, and until 2006 the event was held in Cascais.

In 2007 it moved to Troia, where one of Portugal's biggest groups, Promodes, had developed a new tourist complex with a number of hotels and apartment buildings. They found in Portugal Match Cup and the World Match Racing Tour the ideal tool for the worldwide promotion of their development. Again together with the state tourist agency they wanted to promote Troia through the event in the world tourist market. Portugal Match Cup was held in Troia until last year and this year we moved for the first time to Portimao when the new marina, the city and the region of Algarve invited us to establish ourselves there.

Valencia Sailing: Apparently, the cities, regions and the state in Portugal use the sport of sailing for their tourist promotion.
Justino de Sá Machado: Indeed, this has been the case. As I said, their aim is to advertize the name of Portimao and Portugal as major tourist destinations and the WMRT is a very good vehicle. However, it's not only the cities that used the event from their promotion. Portugal's biggest energy group, EDP, and one of the largest in Europe, joined us this year as a sponsor with the intention to develop a marketing campaign through the Tour. They are active in Portugal, Spain, France, Brazil and the international nature of the Tour is a major appeal to them. This year their sponsorship was relatively small but the intention is to invest more in the future, not only in the event but in the development of the sport of sailing as a whole.

It is important to point out the event has the personal support of the president of the Portuguese republic, Cavaco Silva.

In the Portimao Portugal Match Cup racing takes place very close to the beach

Valencia Sailing: How difficult is it to find sponsorship for a sailing event in a small country like Portugal?
Justino de Sá Machado: For me it's considerably easy to find suppliers, there is little problem in that. Just go to our website and you'll see we have plenty of them. Finding cash sponsors is much more difficult, not only due to the crisis but also the fact Portugal is a small country and sailing is not very popular.

However, we are confident that match racing is better suited. Portimao used to hold another international regatta with bigger boats but racing was always taking place far away and it was impossible for spectators to watch from the shore. As you saw, this year, racing took place very close to the beach. More importantly, during this year's event we launched the "Portimao Sun Sailing Academy". We have 6 SM40 yachts and our aim is to provide the facilities and infrastructure for any high-level teams that want to train. In fact some of the teams that took part in the event came a few days earlier and trained, generating additional income for us.

Portimao offers very good conditions, throughout the year, with a bay situated off the river mouth. There is always good wind but hardly any waves. So, I think this can be excellent for crews from northern Europe that could train during the fall or winter. Unlike Troia, there is hardly any current either. Last but not least, Portimao is also considerably cheaper than many other venues, so financially as well it's an interesting proposal.

Don't forget that sailing in general is not a popular sport in this country. It's difficult for young sailors to find sponsors and advance in the European and international circuits. Our best match racer is Alvaro Marinho and he's one of the very few to have a corporate sponsor behind him. I also supported him by inviting him to this event and the previous events we had in Brazil, helping him as much as I could to retain his worldwide ranking. He's the only truly professional Portuguese sailor right now. Portugal is a small country and there is no comparison at all to our European neighbors, such as Spain, or even Italy and France that are international "powers" in sailing.

Valencia Sailing: Being a WMRT event promoter for so many years what is your opinion on the new organization?
Justino de Sá Machado: I would say they are incredible and the change I saw from last year is amazing. For example, up to last year we used to have 7 people from the Tour coming to support our event, 5 for TV, one doing PR and the Tour director. This year we have more than twenty, ten of them just for TV production. The investment the new Malaysian owners are making is very big.

Valencia Sailing: How was the acceptance of the event by the public? Where there spectators?
Justino de Sá Machado: Portimao has, inherently, an advantage. There are more foreign tourists than locals during this period of the year. The Portuguese usually come here in August so in June there's a majority of foreigners that, in general, are more interested in sailing and more knowledgeable. As a result, we had good numbers of British, French or even Spanish tourists that were watching the races or coming to the marina.

As a said earlier, with the match races held so close to the beach it's always easier to have general interest. We had quite a number of people watching from the breakwater and the lighthouse and I can assure you it's impossible to get any closer than that to the yachts. Even people that don't understand much about sailing can follow the races, at least they can always tell who's ahead and for that reason I think match race has more future.

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