There’s every chance that you may have glossed over, missed or disregarded some pretty momentous, seismic, incredible news yesterday around SailGP. And it’s no-one’s fault. The signing of the Mubadala Investment Co. as title partner of the season finale in San Francisco barely raised a ripple in the yachting media, and why should it? Most editors will simply have copied and pasted the press release, but for myself (and I claim no high ground here) it was one of the most significant pieces of news to ever come across my desk.
Who are Mubadala you may ask? Well they are the lowest profile, high-profile investment business in the world, controlling an effective sovereign wealth fund of Abu Dhabi with a balance sheet of some $230 billion and who, throughout the pandemic, went large on the global recovery. Whilst others were retreating, Mubadala was seizing opportunities and in 2020 alone, ploughed some $11billion into the widest range of diversified investments all around the globe. They went big on tech, they went long on un-loved sectors, they built a powerhouse and profited handsomely as the global economy weathered the pandemic storm.
In Britain, Mubadala is most prominent in the soccer scene with an investment in Manchester City Football Club that has been, and continues to be, wildly successful. The Group Chief Executive of Mubadala, His Excellency Khaldoon Khalifa Al-Mubarak, (‘Mubarak’ for brevity) is the most high-profile visual representative, often seen in the stands or glad-handing with the manager and players. He’s the steel behind the investment. And he’s the ultimate power broker, a collaborative force with massive influence across the investment world. If you get the Mubadala stamp of approval you are on the fast track to corporate success and the gate-keeper is Mubarak.
As the ultimate visionary, Mubarak has a back-story that is utterly phenomenal. His father was tragically assassinated in Paris whilst in the role of the UAE ambassador when he was just eight years old and he was brought up by his grandparents, schooled at the American Community School in Abu Dhabi before attending Tufts University in Massachusetts.
In his early 20’s he brokered a deal and oversaw the integration between Abu Dhabi and Qatar for a gas pipeline that really caught attention and was quickly picked out by the rulers of Abu Dhabi, as a rising star. When the kingdom acquired Manchester City, the deal was fronted by an atypical flash playboy who was quickly replaced by the more temperate Mubarak and the rest is history. Today he’s one of the closest advisers to the youthful crown prince, Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan, widely regarded as the de facto leader of the UAE.
So why does this matter to sailing? Well the San Francisco office of Mubadala is the eyes and ears of the sovereign wealth fund into the technology industry and investment opportunities in California. As visionaries, what Mubadala could well be eyeing is that sailing, and particularly the grand prix end of sailing, is a fast track entry to the very top table of the business world and by attaining name recognition with an alignment to SailGP, doors will open. It’s a good bet. It’s a brilliant bet and sailing is richer for their involvement.
Abu Dhabi is deadly serious about looking beyond oil many generations into the future, and their investments are aligned with securing a prosperous economic future for its people and security for its leaders. Along the way, the sheer joy that sport can bring, along with investment opportunities, has been massively recognised and we’re seeing big involvement in Professional Football, Formula 1, Golf, Swimming, Athletics, UFC, Boxing etc etc…now we can add sailing to that roster and one can only imagine where this could lead to.
For SailGP, it’s a coup. Having Mubadala involved changes the dial and as the relationship deepens, the possibilities are endless. Abu Dhabi’s neighbour, Dubai, just 75 miles up the coast is hosting its first SailGP regatta in November and that will be watched closely by the investment heads of Mubadala.
If it works, why wouldn’t we see an expanded Middle Eastern section to the calendar with multiple regattas rounding off the year in the region? It could be a lucrative boost to the SailGP coffers, makes huge sense and secures its long-term future as a pinnacle series that complements the America’s Cup beautifully.
Abu Dhabi is the perfect middle-eastern stalking horse for wider Gulf participation in our sport. Viewed as a more moderate state, it is palatable to the west. The very mention of the America’s Cup going to Jeddah raised huge opposition, rightly, and don’t think that went un-noticed in the Middle East. As pyrrhic victories go, the armchair admirals won.
But long-term sailing can hugely benefit from the region’s involvement and SailGP have seized the opportunity with both hands. From a sailing perspective the regattas and the spectacle will be extraordinary and I have to say, I am actually looking forward to seeing the Dubai SailGP regatta out of a deep-seated sense of curiosity to witness just how they will approach it, the logistics and the organisation. I think it could be something very special. I am prepared to be blown away or massively disappointed. I’m interested to see it.
But the San Francisco season-ender, the decider, the shoot-out, the match of matches is something that I can barely contain myself with. I’m a huge fan from afar. Slingsby versus Spithill versus Outteridge for $1,000,000 – I mean come on, what’s not to love? The build-up will be electric. The venue is perfect. The players are too close to call. The betting is tighter than Russell Coutts at the bar. You can make a case, a brilliant case, for any one of those guys to win – and you’d be right. It’s going to be electric. And the Mubadala Investment Co. is right there in the action with a grandstand seat in a gilded box. Lucky boys.
Mark the date of March 26-27th in your diary. Cancel everything. Download the App. Tune in. Sit back and watch the on-the-water fireworks. It promises so much and more and as a glimpse of the future of our sport with money on the line, top tier sponsors involved and the best generation of sailors on the planet, it is quite literally everything.