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A letter to Robert and Sandy Oatley

by J M on 24 Jul 2014
Filling a lake with young sailors. J M
A letter to Robert and Sandy Oatley

Dear Robert and Sandy,

As I read the news that Team Australia has withdrawn as Challenger of Record for the America's Cup I cheered quietly to myself. If I cheered loudly I would probably have been thrown out of the country!

Australia won the Cup back in 1983 over 30 years ago……….. yes it was that long ago. It was an incredible feat and a significant moment in Australian history; however the country and the world have changed out of sight since that time.

I understand the lure of winning back the Cup and bringing the Auld Mug back to Australian shores once again. I watched lots of video highlights and the nail biting finish was incredible. The Americas Cup is one of the pinnacles of sailing, like the Volvo Ocean Race, winning an Olympic gold medal and perhaps as a beginner sailor completing your first race. Yes finishing your first race is a significant event for a new sailor

Ask any sailor to tell you why they like the sport and all sorts of descriptions come up – freedom, thrill, independence, challenging. What other sport is there where an 11 year old is in charge of their own vehicle out of earshot of parents, free to go where they chose. Teenagers like yacht clubs because of the friends they make and the camaraderie.

Would teenage sailors like Australia to win the America’s Cup? Possibly.

Would it make any difference to what happens at their yacht club on a Saturday or Sunday afternoon? Probably not.

I work in sport development and I’m well aware that sport retention, and in particular youth retention, is a hard nut to crack.

When I heard that Team Australia had withdrawn I cheered; because there lies before you an opportunity to affect more change at the grassroots of sailing than ever before.

How? By significant investment in the sport focused on junior and youth participation.

The money that you would have put to the Americas Cup please consider investing it in sailing on a scale that will affect change at a club level that will create future champions as well as mass participation.

Back in 2011 Yachting Australia commissioned Gemba to conduct comprehensive research to get a better understanding of sailings customers. The research included the general public’s perception of sailing.

The findings – the general public think sailing is elitist, exclusive, expensive and dangerous. Team Australia in the America's Cup would have reinforced those perceptions.

A number of years ago Yachting Victoria developed Tackers - the AusKick of sailing. A fun, games based junior participation program to get kids on the water. With the tagline Kids and Boats = Fun, the Tackers program has achieved great success and has now been rolled out nationally. Investment could take it further.

At my yacht club we are fortunate enough to have a member who is a current Americas Cup sailor as well as numerous World and National champions. Over the last couple of seasons we have hosted some large national championships but, still like many other yacht clubs we ponder, think and struggle to keep youngsters in the sport. We have ideas, we have applied for funding as many yacht clubs have but so have the netball, soccer and footy clubs and that is hard to fight to win.

Imagine what an impact you could have on sailing using the funding set aside for the Americas Cup; fill the bays, lakes and waterways of Australia with sailors rather than jet skis.

Perhaps set up The Oatley Foundation to assist clubs develop their junior and youth programs and create a legacy for sailing that is long lasting; that directly touches lives of hundreds of thousands of Australians and affects their health and wellbeing.

The possibilities are endless and the benefits are enormous.

Glory is fleeting, a legacy is long lasting.

From a Laser sailing Mum of two Opti sailing daughters
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