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Preparing for a return to sport

Published on 24/08/2020

Over four months ago, the coronavirus pandemic saw the world grind to a halt. Social distancing measures and lockdowns became commonplace to slow the spread of the disease disrupting many aspects of life, including sport.

©Alexis Courcoux
©Alexis Courcoux

As a sports event’s management company, OC Sport the partner company to OC Sport Pen Duick, saw the majority of their physical events cancelled, and while virtual events like World Health Organisation Walk the Talk: The Health for All Challenge allowed the company to deliver a positive online event to nearly 7 million individuals across the world, the company’s focus has been on finding solutions to deliver real-life sporting events in a safe environment.

For OC Sport Pen Duick, the team are now delighted to confirm that the 51st edition of the Solitaire du Figaro is set to take place this year, with over 30 skippers preparing to take to the start line at the historic Brittany town of Saint-Quay-Portrieuc in north-west France on 30th August 2020.

But what can we expect from this edition of the race? How will it be different and what measures have been put in place? We spoke with Alex Picot, Project Manager at La Solitaire du Figaro to find out more.

On asking how the skippers reacted and adapted throughout the last few months, Alex was blown away by their response and dedication. “We have 36 skippers set to participate in the race so far. It is incredible to see how attached and committed people are to this event. The skippers and everyone involved were patient and understanding over the last few months as we continued to monitor the situation. They simply wanted a sporting goal to aim towards this year and a chance to race and asked us to do our best to try and manage a safe race for them.”

Recognised as the one of the most demanding offshore racing in the world, the very nature of the race allows social distancing to be less of a problem for the participants, meaning few adaptions needed to be made on the water. On shore, the organisation are preparing for a different set-up, with Alex talking about the possibility of “running race briefings, prize-giving’s and press conferences online via a video conference.”

Whilst most sports events start and finish in the same city, offshore sailing and La Solitaire du Figaro presents a different challenge. This year’s edition will include three classic stages of 500 miles or more, and one final 24-hour sprint. Having three different stopover territories, the Bay of Saint-Brieuc, Dunkirk and the Loire-Atlantique in Saint-Nazaire, could have added complications to managing the Coronavirus pandemic, but with constant communication throughout and the necessary adaptions, the cities are proud to be maintaining their partnership and look forward to welcoming the race to their city.

“The cities had a lot of things to consider. On the one hand, they were concerned about their image, about organising anything ‘non-essential’ and were thinking about relocating their investment for the new expenses they had induced due to the Coronavirus pandemic. However, as with the skippers, they were dedicated and committed to this race and wanted to continue to be a part of it. They felt the need to be positive and give the participants and public something to look forward to following the last few months of lockdown whilst meeting the greater necessity to keep on supporting the attractiveness of their territories.”

“Together we discussed the best solutions to ensure we could still hold this sporting event, whilst also abiding to the current regulations and ensuring that we protect the public. We will be ready to deliver the event in the best way possible whilst respecting the regulations, whatever they may be at the time and I am sure the cities, partners and athletes will be incredibly proud of the outcome.”

Whilst virtual sporting events have provided great entertainment throughout lockdown, there is nothing like a real sporting competition and the public who can’t make it to the stopovers will be able to follow all the action online via social media as the world’s best single-handed sailors go head to head over the 1,830-mile course. The race villages will also welcome the public on site, with new regulations and procedures in place to ensure everyone’s safety throughout.

“The three race villages in the stopover cities will be adapted with special safety measures. This includes one-way systems, a limit on the number of people allowed in a certain space and masks will be compulsory . Our exhibitors will be managing their stands differently and there will also be signs and media to remind the public to ensure physical distancing is respected. We will be ensuring everyone is spread out as far as possible with more focus on a large outdoor space and some areas such as the pontoons will be closed off to the public if is impossible to abide by the health regulations and rules.

“Despite the regulations, the public can still have the chance to be part of this unforgettable event and welcome their heroes to the stopover cities after racing across some of Europe’s roughest waters.”

Will the event be the Solitaire du Figaro we all know and love? Alex is confident that it will be just as unforgettable as any other edition; “From a sporting point of view, we have four beautiful legs, an incredible casting of the best solo sailors and all the ingredients that make this race a classic. It is an open course with the solo skippers having to find their own strategy and battle with all the usual challenges – wind, tide, lack of sleep and racing neck on neck. On shore, it will be different for sure but in a way that I am sure we will all remember.”

Whilst the impact of the coronavirus global pandemic on sport cannot be underestimated and sports events may look very different than they once did, their return under safe and adapted rules is an exciting and welcome concept and one that the organisers at OC Sport Pen Duick are confident they can deliver. The past few months have highlighted the true power and importance of sport and we look forward to La Solitaire du Figaro showcasing this for the 51st edition of the race.

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