The Copenhagen Way Part 3: How SailGP’s Denmark Grand Prix is setting the standard for sustainable sporting events

SportsPro

September 1, 2022

SportsPro travelled to Copenhagen’s recent Denmark Sail Grand Prix to hear from organisers and competitors about why the city is a perfect fit for the F50 catamaran racing series.

SailGP has found safe harbour in the port of Nordhavn.

The international sailing series is only in its third season, Copenhagen is hosting the Denmark Sail Grand Prix for the first time, and the venue until recently comprised of little more than a shipyard site. And yet on a sunny August Saturday afternoon in the Danish capital, it looks and feels as though sailing is exactly where it belongs.

On race weekend, the spectator stand stretching across the Oceankaj waterfront offers fans an idyllic vantage point to watch Copenhagen’s inaugural Denmark Grand Prix. Meanwhile, the CopenHill ski slope and the Middelgrunden offshore wind farm provide a fitting backdrop for an event looking to promote sustainability to global audiences.

This is the second time SailGP has raced in Denmark after visiting Aarhus in August 2021. Speaking to SportsPro ahead of this year’s event, Andy Thompson, the series’ chief commercial and financial officer, seems more than satisfied with the league’s decision to bring its hydrofoiling fleet of nine F50 catamarans to Copenhagen’s shores.

This is an ideal location for a SailGP event,” he says, as music pulsates through the stands at Oceankaj in anticipation of the race. “The Danish public have really embraced this.

Indeed, as Danish flags flicker in the sun, the crowd musters up its loudest roar for the Denmark team each time it ripples across the home straight towards the finish line. Thompson says that this atmosphere, coupled with the prospect of fans queuing up outside a venue for a sailing event, would have been almost unimaginable for the sport five to ten years ago.

They really get behind us, the city gets behind us,” he continues. “As we’re sitting here, the crowd is right on the shore, the racetrack is right in front of them, the hospitality is right there, the media is right here, and it just sets up perfectly for us as a racetrack.

SailGP is among an increasing number of sports properties bringing their events to Copenhagen, which this summer staged the Tour de France’s Grand Depart and next year will welcome badminton’s BWF World Championships. Optimistic that the city will showcase many memorable sailing contests in the years to come, Thompson believes the Danish capital is a perfect fit for the series.

SailGP obviously wants to grow and expand, and Copenhagen wants to show itself to the world stage as a major sporting venue, which it is,” he explains. “So ultimately, we’re trying to get to a real sweet spot where it works for both parties.

Indeed, SailGP’s calendar features some of the world’s most glamorous destinations, but Thompson believes Copenhagen is already among its most iconic. As he explains, the series’ strategy is to build long-term collaborations with its host cities in order to have a lasting impact.

You talk about Bermuda and you talk about San Francisco, you talk about Chicago, and then Saint-Tropez [is] obviously an iconic location,” Thompson says. “Copenhagen’s right up there. The partners get excited about that. It’s just one of those global cities.

It’s about having that consistent date on a calendar, where if you’re in Copenhagen, or if you’re Danish, you know that each year the Sail Grand Prix is going to be on a certain day. You’re going to come out and enjoy it.”

Powered by Nature
For SailGP, words mean nothing without action, a mantra which can be seen in its commitment to sustainability and is shared by the city of Copenhagen.

In line with the slogan ‘powered by nature’, the Grand Prix tech site in Nordhavn is fully generated by wind power, meaning the F50 racing boats’ batteries were also completely charged using renewable energy.

From plant-based food options and fully recyclable cutlery, to Carlsberg’s newly designed plastic beer bottles and electric buses taking fans to the venue, every detail of the Denmark Sail Grand Prix appeared to be geared towards reducing the event’s carbon footprint.

For Fiona Morgan, SailGP’s global director of purpose and impact, the often challenging task of delivering an event that fits the league’s sustainability guidelines is simply the modus operandi in Copenhagen. Hailing Denmark as a “leader in sustainability”, Morgan is impressed by the capital’s eco-friendly approach, which she says makes the lives of the organisers a lot easier.

This event is 100 per cent powered by clean energy, because in Denmark that’s normal,” Morgan declares. “They just operate sustainably, that’s who they are. It’s not an extra ask, it’s just the way the events team work.

Morgan even goes as far as to suggest that Copenhagen can serve as an example for other SailGP venues.

It’s a showcase to our other host cities and events, so we can use this as that blueprint,” she continues. “It’s such a perfect venue for SailGP. This is not a one-off event, this is really the part of the way the city operates.”

Making a difference
Morgan notes that last year’s Denmark Sail Grand Prix in Aarhus had the lowest carbon footprint of any SailGP weekend to date. This year’s edition is set to go one better, with Thompson revealing that Copenhagen’s Grand Prix will be the series’ most sustainable event yet.

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