Greenpeace calls out SailGP for greenwashing

Published on March 26th, 2024

Promoting environmental causes has become an attention-seeking tactic in sailing to gain commercial interest, and while it often seems self-serving, protecting the earth is never a bad thing. This has been a foundational aspect of the SailGP sports league, which is fine as long as they consistently ‘walk the walk’.

A conflict occurred during their New Zealand event, and now Greenpeace is calling them out. As an independent, global environmental campaigning organization, Greenpeace is known globally for pursuing all forms of environmental causes, and that includes protecting marine mammals for getting sliced by high-speed F50 catamarans.

Here’s a report by Dr. Russel Norman, Executive Director of Greenpeace Aotearoa / New Zealand:

I don’t know who needs to hear this, but SailGP is just a boat race. Yes it is exciting as the foils slice through the water at up to 100km/h, but is it really worth killing endangered dolphins for a boat race?

I don’t think so. And I reckon most New Zealanders’ values would align with that.

But then there is the other Russell, Russell Coutts, CEO of SailGP.

Previously SailGP agreed with the approach of prioritising dolphins’ safety ahead of boat races, but now comments by Coutts suggest they have changed their mind.

What happened?

SailGP decided they wanted to have their race in Lyttelton Harbour, where there is a marine mammal sanctuary because endangered Upokohue/Hector’s dolphins live there.

Upokohue/Hector’s is one of the smallest and rarest dolphins in the world and is classified by scientists as “Threatened – Nationally Vulnerable”, which means they face a high risk of extinction in the medium term. They are only found in New Zealand. These are all good reasons to protect them.

SailGP was told about the problems of holding the race in a marine mammal sanctuary. This was especially problematic because of the very high speed of the boats and the presence of mothers with calves. SailGP persisted and a series of rules were agreed (the Marine Mammal Protection Plan) that would allow the race but protect the dolphins. The most important rule was that racing must stop if dolphins were sighted in or near the racing area.

Only a fortnight ago Andrew Thompson, SailGP Managing Director, said about the Marine Mammal Protection Plan: “It’s an industry-leading example of SailGP’s commitment to the environments in which we operate.”

As the Department of Conservation have stated: ‘This decision to hold the event there was made in the full knowledge that protection of the dolphins from the impact of boats will be paramount.’’

Personally, I don’t agree with having the race there at all. It is a marine sanctuary, for god’s sake, but if it is going ahead, it is good that the protection plan was agreed upon.

But then on Saturday the dolphins turned up, the agreed rules were activated and the racing was paused. Which was what SailGP agreed because of their ‘commitment to the environments in which we operate’.

But then Coutts lost his shit and in a Trumpian outburst attacked all and sundry- DoC, the harbourmaster, the hapū, the scientists, the laws etc etc. His attack on rules to protect dolphins echoed this government’s war on nature with its oil and gas exploration and fast-track laws for environmentally destructive projects.

So much for all the greenwash that SailGP cares about the environment! And as for Coutts’ gratuitous attack on Ngāti Wheke, thank goodness that they stood up for the dolphins because it is clear that SailGP couldn’t care less.

When it comes to not really giving a damn about dolphins, I used to think that no one would best George Clement, the then head of Seafood New Zealand, when he blamed the dolphins for drowning themselves in fishing nets. But Russell Coutts sure has given it a crack.

SailGP informationChristchurch detailsYouTubeHow to watch

Christchurch Final Results
1. New Zealand (Peter Burling), 1-4-2-(1)
2. France (Quintin Delapierre), 2-5-1-(2)
3. Canada (Phil Robertson), 5-1-3-(3)
4. Spain (Diego Botin), 3-2-4
5. Germany (Erik Heil), 6-6-5
6. Switzerland (Nathan Outteridge), 7-7-7
7. Great Britain (Giles Scott), 4-3-8
8. United States (Taylor Canfield), 9-9-9
9. Denmark (Nicolai Sehested), 8-8-6
10. Australia (Tom Slingsby), 10-DNC-DNC

Season 4 Standings (after nine of 13 events; results and total points)
1. New Zealand (Peter Burling), 1-7-8-DNC/6-4-1-1-3-1; 68 points
2. Australia (Tom Slingsby), 2-3-2-2-3-2-7-1-10; 59
3. Spain (Diego Botin), 5-1-3-6-6-10-2-5-4; 55
4. France (Quintin Delapierre), 6-8-6-4-7-4-4-4-2; 54
5. Denmark (Nicolai Sehested), 4-2-4-7-2-6-9-2-9; 50
6. United States (Jimmy Spithill/Taylor Canfield), 9-5-5-3-1-8-3-9-8; 48
7. Canada (Phil Robertson), 3-4-10-5-5-3-6-10-3; 46
8. Great Britain (Ben Ainslie/Giles Scott), 7-6-1-1-8-5-8-7-7; 45
9. Germany (Erik Heil), 10-10-7-8-9-10-9-5-6-5; 27
10. Switzerland (Sebastien Schneiter/Nathan Outteridge), 8-9-9-9-7-10-8-6; 22

For scoring adjustments, click here.

Season 4 – 2023
June 16-17 – United States Sail Grand Prix | Chicago at Navy Pier
July 22-23 – United States Sail Grand Prix | Los Angeles
September 9-10 – France Sail Grand Prix | Saint-Tropez
September 23-24 – Italy Sail Grand Prix | Taranto
October 14-15 – Spain Sail Grand Prix | Andalucía- Cádiz
December 9-10 – Dubai Sail Grand Prix | Dubai*

Season 4 – 2024
January 13-14 – Abu Dhabi Sail Grand Prix | Abu Dhabi
February 24-25 – Australia Sail Grand Prix | Sydney
March 23-24 – New Zealand Sail Grand Prix | Auckland
March 23-24 – New Zealand Sail Grand Prix | Christchurch
May 4-5 – Bermuda Sail Grand Prix
June 1-2 – Canada Sail Grand Prix | Halifax
June 22-23 – United States Sail Grand Prix | New York
July 13-14 – SailGP Season 4 Grand Final | San Francisco
* Added October 3, 2023

Format for Season 4:
• Teams compete in identical F50 catamarans.
• Each event runs across two days.
• Up to seven qualifying fleet races of approximately 15 minutes may be scheduled for each regatta.
• The top three teams from qualifying advance to a final race to be crowned event champion and earn the largest share of the $300,000.00 USD event prize money purse (increases to $400k for Abu Dhabi with the winning team now earning $200k at each event).
• The season ends with the Grand Final, which includes the Championship Final Race for the top three teams in the season standing with the winner claiming the $2 million USD prize.
• The top team on points ahead of the three-boat Championship Final will be awarded $350,000.00.

For competition documents, click here.

Established in 2018, SailGP seeks to be an annual, global sports league featuring fan-centric inshore racing among national teams in some of the iconic harbors around the globe.

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