Sports Gazette

by sports journalism students at St Mary's University, London

Sail GP: Racing for a better future

Posted on 24 March 2022 by Luke Young

On the extravagant backdrop of Alcatraz and the Golden Gate Bridge, amidst the spring sunshine and challenging pacific winds, the fastest race boats on the planet return to the iconic venue of San Francisco bay for the season’s grand finale.

Amongst the high dramas and thrilling races during this exciting season, the Sail GP teams have been working hard on shore as well to promote their works on sustainability and environmental innovation.

The championship’s inaugural season brought 133,244 spectators on site to witness the fastest and most dynamic sailing on the planet. But high winds and storms continue to cancel and delay events throughout its second season.


Climate change and sailing

Climate change’s impact on coastal weather brings greater chances of storms which in turn increases sea levels by a few millimetres in water depth.

Whilst sea levels do not directly affect the participation of sailing, coastal areas are now susceptible to storm surges and hurricanes, affecting major sailing venues.

According to NASA, in the past 100 years, sea level’s response to global warming totals to a rise between 160 and 210 mm, with about half of that amount occurring since 1993.

Sail GP has informed that by 2050, over 570 low-lying coastal cities will face rises in levels by at least 0.5 meters, putting more than 800 million people at risk from the impacts of rising seas, extreme weather and storm surges.

This directly affects the future of Sail GP, with three of the cities being host venues for the tournament; Plymouth, Saint-Tropez and Sydney.

“World Sailing’s Sustainability Report 2030…commits to a carbon reduction target, with a plan to cut emissions at events by 50 per cent by 2024”, stated in David Goldblatt’s Playing Against the Clock report where he investigates the climate emergency and the case for rapid change in sports.

He explains that: “Normal wind patterns will also be subject to change, with implications for sailing and windsurfing that are already being registered.”


Sail GP’s Impact League

The Sail GP Impact league is a pioneering initiative that combats the climate crisis.

Teams use cutting edge technology to remove more carbon than its footprint and is committed to being 100% powered by nature at events by 2025. Improving the initial target set by World Sailing.

Since the introduction of the championship, Sail GP has retired 50,000 tons of CO2 from the atmosphere, equivalent to taking almost 11,000 cars off the road for a whole year.

Each team invests in ocean conservation and regeneration, pledging to have all on-water support fleet solar and electrically powered by 2025 with broadcasts, umpiring and race management to be operated from remote locations.

Sustainability and environmental innovation are deemed pivotal to the aims and values of Sail GP; therefore, the winner of the impact league is crowned alongside the winners of the Sail GP Championship.

By topping the impact league, funding is awarded to the team’s purpose partner for the efforts made in combatting the climate crisis throughout the season.

Teams compete to achieve zero emissions targets and to ensure expectations of being powered by nature through solar energy, electric transport, zero plastic products and coastal clean ups.

Impact League standings prior to the final weekend:


Athlete activism

These targets are all enforced by Sail GP’s own. Hannah Mills, World Sailor of the Year 2021 and the most successful female sailor of all time, is calling for “immediate and radical action on climate change”.

Following her appearance at the COP26 event in November 2021, Mills explained that:

“Athletes have a powerful opportunity to do good, thanks to the profile that sport has given them.

“So, I urge my fellow athletes to seize that opportunity with the same determination that brought them sporting glory.

“Especially when it comes to the future of our fragile planet. The climate crisis is urgent.”

The first step in combatting the climate crisis is admitting one’s involvement to the issue, only then can we understand the crucial need to be part of the change.

“I am the first to admit that my sport, sailing, has a large carbon footprint” says Mills.

“To race, we fly ourselves and our equipment round the world in planes that guzzle fossil fuels and spew carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.

“Sometimes, on our travels, it is impossible to avoid buying food wrapped in single use plastic, even though I campaign passionately about plastic pollution.

“I am not perfect. In that sense, I am a hypocrite. That’s the point. We all are.”

Credit: @SailWorldNews

Racing for a better future

Hannah Mills will be alongside her Great Britain teammates this coming weekend as season two of Sail GP comes to a close in San Francisco. Defending champions Australia will be aiming to achieve consecutive championship victories, but will we see a new Sail GP champion?

And who will be crowed winners of the Impact League?

This weekend will showcase the strides that sailing’s elite are taking in achieving carbon zero sporting events. An admirable effort that needs to be emulated by other sports.

Global sporting events and leagues bring people across the world together, and therefore it should be a core value of sport to sustain the environment that allows us to participate, spectate and enjoy sport.

It is a challenge to see significant improvements in the near future, but with more major athletes and sporting bodies demanding a global effort, sport can do its part in saving our only planet.

Credit: @SailGP