SAILING:Ironic touch for organisers of Whitbread

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The Independent Online
With a fine taste for the richly ironic, the organisers of the Whitbread Round the World race are planing to reduce the number of entrants bearing alcohol sponsorship. Not because they want to bottle up the competition, they say, but because of t he sensitivities of television.

"We feel it is necessary because we rely on a high level of media attention and we don't want to lay before the TV cameras something that is unacceptable in a number of countries," the race director, Ian Bailey-Willmot, said.

France, which will host the penultimate port-of-call at La Rochelle, is one place where the anti-alcohol lobby has gained in strength. "We don't want to keep our competitors out, but it is becoming increasingly difficult, especially in France," Bailey-Willmot said.

The winner of the next race, due to start in September 1997, will be decided by a points system rather than total time. The change, announced yesterday, has been made to cut out the chance of one bad leg time, caused by either gear breakage or poor weather, making the rest of the race a hopeless formality. The previous six races have used the total elapsed time for the whole distance, and this may still form the basis of a separate prize and possibly be used as a tie-breaker in the event of equal points. No decision has yet been taken on the system to be employed to reflect the differing leg lengths.

The entry fee has been raised to £300,000, compared with less than £20,000 in 1993, but will include a television package, support equipment and services. The television deal has been given to TransWorld International and seems to be aimed at satellite audiences.

Sao Sebastiao has been confirmed as the Brazilian port, but the preferred second stop in Sydney is still the subject of negotiation and competition from Melbourne, so the route, starting on 21 September 1997, is likely to be Southampton, Cape Town, Fremantle, Sydney, Auckland, Sao Sebastiao, Fort Lauderdale, Baltimore, La Rochelle and Southampton.

Although the Whitbread 60, used with dramatic success in the last race, will now be the only class of boat in the race, Bailey-Willmot is still working on changes to the rules of construction and said there are already 14 registered syndicates from 11 countries for only 30 places. Two, which remain anonymous, are from Britain.

Robin Knox-Johnston will receive in London today his part of the BT Yachtsman of the Year award as co-skipper of the world-record breaking 74 days around the world in Enza last year. His co-skipper, Peter Blake, will join a simultaneous award ceremony inSan Diego.