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Kiteboarders make strong claim for 2016 Olympic inclusion

by Richard Gladwell, Sail-World.com on 2 Nov 2010
International Kiteboarding (Photo: KPWT/Carlos Delicado) International Kiteboarding Association http://www.internationalkiteboarding.org

With the International Sailing Federation's Annual Conference due to get underway in Athens, Greece, next week, the International Kiteboard Association has made a strong claim for inclusion in the 10 event card for the 2016 Olympics in Brazil.

The Association, picking up in the ISAF Olympic Commission's report calling for a rejuvenation of most aspects of the Olympic classes and regatta, issued another statement today, which contains some compelling arguments for the inclusion of a Kiteboarding event to embrace the discipline which also holds the world speed sailing record, and would be the fastest event of any of the Summer Olympic disciplines.

In its arguments the Kiteboarders address four key criteria:

1. Are the Olympic Games the Pinnacle Event for a certain event or class?

ISAF is doing a lot to ensure that the Olympic Games are the pinnacle event for the Olympic Classes. This starts with preventing Olympic Classes from holding world championship events as they would like to and continues with the Sailing World Cup to ensure continuity between the Games. But this all doesn’t help for events and classes where widely recognized pinnacle events exist outside the Olympic Games.

For Multihulls this will be the Americas Cup from now on, with racing taking place in huge catamarans. It is hard to believe that the Olympic Sailing competition, which has one of the poorest media distribution figures of all Olympic sports, can score against the multi-million-dollar media machinery of some of the richest syndicates in the world.


Another event affected by its pinnacle events is the keelboats, with a full on professional Match Racing World Tour for smaller keelboats as well as the Volvo Ocean Race and other offshore races being considered as the pinnacle of this part of the sport.

The other events – dinghy, windsurfer, kiteboard – are not affected by this criteria – for them the Olympic Games would be the pinnacle event where every athlete would be proud of having the chance to compete. Sure – in windsurfing and kiteboarding some pro tours exist, but they are not covering the disciplines that are happening at the Olympic Games – Racing, and they are by no means comparable with the America’s Cup or the WMRT or the Volvo Ocean Race.

Another issue to consider here is equipment evolution – the traditional Olympic Classes might have updated their sails and masts to keep up with the time at least a bit, but classes like Kiteboarding have only existed for 10 or 15 years, have cutting edge equipment using the latest available technologies, maximizing excitement for athletes, spectators and media. Can the Star, the Finn and the 470 still believe they will 'provide a perfect showcase of the wide range and diversity of sailing' ?

Imagine Downhill Skiing with wooden skis , or the Cyclists being made to use bikes designed in 1911 – ridiculous.



2. Which Events show diversity as required by the International Olympic Committee

'Weight category events should not be allowed, except for combat sports and for weightlifting' – IOC Programme Commission. Not just 'not recommended' or 'not required', but 'not allowed' !

According to this pretty clear IOC requirement, there should not be two single handed dinghy events nor double handed dinghy events, neither for men nor for women.

There should be a battle between the Laser, the Finn and any other class that wants to be selected as e.g. the Men’s single hander, or the 29er, the 470 or any other class that wants to be e.g. the women’s double hander.

Kiteboard, Windsurfer, Multihull and Keelboat (apart from their other problem with the requirements of the Olympic Commission) are all unique in their area: Kiteboards are different from any other sailing class as they neither have a mast nor a sail but a kite and steering lines and the hulls sink if not moved; the windsurfers have swivel mounted riggs and the athletes have to stand on their boards, multihulls have – as the name says – more than one hull and keelboats have keels. Dinghies – or better said 'centreboard boats' are dinghies, and it doesn’t make a difference if the ideal weight of the crew is 60, 80 or 100 kg.

By the way, this requirement of the IOC Programme Commission has been published under the auspices of Jacques Rogge, an avid Finn sailor...

3. Are the current and possible future events and classes youth and media appealing

When talking about media appeal, one should not talk about media appeal for the sailing audience – they are going to watch the Olympic Sailing competition anyway (or, probably not even them).

What the IOC is especially interested in is added media coverage for the general interest audience, plus increasing ticket sales for live spectators. Both cannot be achieved through the sailing audience alone, what is needed is 'Waking up an Audience' as outlined by Richard Worth (Chairman, Management Board of the Americas Cup Event Authority), and this requires to move 'from the Flintstone generation to the Facebook generation'.

He was further referencing to the new, successful additions to the Winter Olympics, namely Snowboard Cross: 'Kids come charging over mountains on snowboards, making leaps, and it looks both different and interesting.

Kiteboarding exactly represents this new generation attitude which is rather looking for videogame-style action sports than for traditional leisure activities. Nowadays, Sailing has to compete for the youth’s attention against all the new, exciting and accessible action and fun sports like skateboarding, wakeboarding, free climbing – just to name a few – and kiteboarding is one of the very few discipline of today’s sailing that is seen as cool and youth attractive.


This claim can be easily backed up by media distribution figures for regular kiteboard events: 400 hours TV coverage in general interest TV like news shows with a reach of 600 million viewers, 35 million readers in newspapers and magazines as well as 70000 spectators on the beach are just one example for the media and spectator interest for a normal kiteboarding event.

4. Do the events and classes chosen offer development options especially for emerging nations

When comparing Sailing's strength and weaknesses against other (water) sports, then one comes to the conclusion that youth and media appealing boats and TV coverage is not the only problem for sailing in the Olympics.

The problem is the low participation in number of countries, and especially from emerging countries where money is an issue. Skiffs, Multihulls and Keelboats all seem to be equally irrelevant to solve that problem.

The only solution to expand sailing activities in emerging nations is to support single handed events solely, maximizing participation in Olympic Qualification as demanded by the IOC and drastically reducing costs.

Firstly, single handed equipment is generally cheaper than all the other events, this applies to classes like the Laser as well as for Kiteboarding and Windsurfing. Logically also the campaign costs are significantly lower: While a four-year campaign for a 470 costs estimated 140,000 Euro (4 boats, 5 sail sets per year,3 extra spinnaker and jibs per year, centre boards, masts...) and for a Tornado estimated 110,000 Euro (2 boats, 2 sail sets per year, 2 centre boards, 2 masts, 4 beams, 4 trampolines...), these costs are still inaccessible for athletes or teams in emerging nations.

Taken the example of kiteboarding, a campaign would be as cheap as 22,000 Euro for a four-year campaign (4 boards, 3 kites per year, 3 bars with lines per year). Plus, the kite industry is keen to support Olympic campaigns in emerging nations with equipment – something which is only possible with initially low equipment costs.

The equipment costs are only a part of the total cost for an Olympic Campaign: adding travel costs (yes, equipment may be provided at major events, but to qualify for those events athletes still need to travel with their own equipment) and sail test programmes only multiplies the original costs of the equipment. In general cheaper the initial costs, the cheaper the whole campaign.

Only Kiteboards, Windsurfer and single handed dinghies can score here, while all other events fail to deliver – apart from the fact that the bigger boats need additional slipways (which are not widely existing in emerging nations) or marinas (which are even harder to find) – infrastructure that adds prohibitive costs for these events.

The ISAF council in less than two weeks time has been given the lead to do something out of the ordinary, to make a decision that might excite a new generation of sailors to get on the Olympic campaign trail. To borrow a phrase from another recent vote between old and new: 'Yes, you can !'


Three options for the Kiteboard Olympic event

One of the questions, in the minds of many, is how the Kiteboarders envisage the Olympic Kiteboard event taking shape.

There are three options according to the Executive Secretary, Markus Schwendtner 'in our opinion there are three disciplines that are worth looking further into,' he replies.

'Option 1 Course Racing (traditional sailing courses, we use windward/leewards with gates) needs no further explanation, it is the most commonly used format and works exactly like any other sailing class except that we are using kites to propell ourselves.

'Option 2 Slalom (speed oriented racing, with groups of sailors starting together on a downwind slalom course and only the first half advancing) works really nice and is extremely media and spectator friendly. It is a knock out system with the winner of the final heat being the champion. It is exactly what snowboard and ski-cross is doing at the winter Olympics and can be combined with obstacles where the competitors have to jump over. This would be something completely new in sailing and for sure a 'buzz' event.


'Option 3 Speed (timed trials) can be run either in 'heats', meaning that you earn points for each 90 minute round, and points are carried forward like in a normal sailing regatta with discards etc. The disadvantage here is that the winner of the last heat is not necessarily the champion, even not with a medal race option.

'The other possibility is to run it like in Formula One qualification where competitors have a certain number of attempts and they can decide when they want to go out during the day.

'Freestyle is not really an option for us as it requires more wind and is based on subjective judging, but it is a big part of the sport and surely very spectacular with 40ft jumps.'



Although kiteboarders are again the fastest sailing vessels with the record 55.65 knots, Schwendtner notes that the discipline'requires more wind to be spectacular - even if it can be done in 5 knots, but the speeds will never be impressive at a normal Olympic sailing venue – except in a hurricane.

'So from our point of view, either course racing or slalom – both would be fine for us and surely be more spectacular than any other sailing event. At least it would be very different!'

While Schwendtner says there are good arguments for speed trials. 'One of the tasks is to make sailing more spectacular, and in London (Weymouth) it might work as well as in Rio, with good winds to be expected, but the lower the wind the less spectacular. However this applies to all boat classes... no one should be forced to wiggle around the course in 2 hours in a 2 knots breeze.'

But as evidenced in the video at the top of the story, kiteboarders generate impressive speeds in light winds - thanks to wind-shear, and are of course able to operate most spectacularly in 40-50kts - well above the sailing range of the current Olympic classes.

'I personally still believe that – apart from the idea of an Olympic speed record which would be nice – Slalom (what we call KiteCross) would be the perfect discipline, it would represent the same thrill as the very successful snowboard cross in the winter Olympics, with short courses (three minute race time) directly along the beach, spectacular jumps across obstacles and an easy to understand knock out system', is Schwendtner's parting comment.

The International Kiteboarding Association is an international class of the International Sailing Federation.

Official website: www.internationalkiteboarding.org

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