Have a good long look at this photo of the Jamaica sponsored yacht ‘Lightning Bolt’, taken as it sailed past the waterfront in Hull a few minutes before the Clipper 09-10 race began. Do you notice anything strange?
That’s what I thought too. How odd that there is not a single person on deck who shares their ethnicity with Usain Bolt, the greatest sprinter the world has ever seen, whose nickname graces the yacht so proudly. How ironic that the race began and will end in Hull, the birthplace of anti-slavery campaigner William Wilberforce. Did someone, somewhere, not have enough sense to ask the obvious question and join up the ethical dots on this one?
I applaud the organisers for encouraging ordinary people to experience this round the world yacht race. Breaking down the exclusivity of the sport and giving this opportunity to first-time crewmembers, some of whom would never ever be accepted on the books of a posh yacht club, has to be a great idea. The trouble is so many of them are people like me, rather than like Usain Bolt. What a pity. What a missed opportunity. What does this say about our commitment to racial justice, 250 years after Wilberforce was born?
But then again, take a look at this photo of just a few dozen of the thousands of spectators who turned out to watch the race begin. The cross-section you see here is pretty much representative of Hull as a whole. Unlike the West Midlands where I grew up, Hull and the East Riding of Yorkshire, just like Lincolnshire, is noticeable for the absence of vibrant asian and afro-Caribbean communities. This is by accident and not design. It is not the product of incipient racism, far from it. I just happen to think that we are all that little bit poorer as a result. As is the Clipper race.
All of that said, when it comes to the outcome of the race I am unashamedly partisan and wish the fine crew of ‘Hull and Humber’ every success.