Two of the great Womens Windsurfers Blanca Manchon (ESP) to windward of ITA’s Alessandra Sensini in the 2008 RS:X Worlds, Womens Medal Race
Protests and revelations continue to roll on the back of the controversial decision by a 19-17 vote by the ISAF Council at the Mid-Year Meeting in early May, to select Kiteboarding as a 2016 Olympic event
At its November Meeting the ISAF bracketed the Kiteboard with the Windsurfer, for selection as an Event for the 2016 Olympic Games. A final decision was to be made in May 2012, pending evaluation trials conducted in March. The Mid-Year meeting was staged at Stresa a resort on picturesque Lake Maggiore, near Milan, Italy.
Despite a recommendation of 17-2 for the retention of Windsurfing by its expert committee, the ISAF Events Committee, who considered a report from an Evaluation Team it established to trial Kiteboarding in March 2012, and advise on its suitability, the Council of the International Sailing Federation (ISAF), the world governing body for the sport, swung the other way and in a close vote decided to promote Kiteboarding ahead of Windsurfing for the 2016 Olympics.
Immediately after the Stresa meeting the Spanish Sailing Federation President, and Council member Gerardo Pombo took responsibility and apologised for the actions of their substitute Council representative for Area E comprising Andorra, Portugal and Spain.
It was claimed that the Spanish Federation RFEV only decided, after publication of the voting lists, to issue an apology for the actions of the very experienced and highly intelligent, Gerardo Seeliger, who it was claimed by RFEV was confused by the voting system.
Prior to the publication of the voting lists, the Spanish had maintained they had supported the Windsurfer according to a http://www.vsail.info/2012/05/23/spains-top-female-windsurfer-revolts-against-her-countrys-sailing-federation-for-its-vote-against-windsurf/!letter sent by five times Womens World Windsurfing Champion, Blanca Manchón to the Spanish Olympic Committee:
Chirivella and Pombo, foundation members of the Club Náutico Español de Vela
I have personally requested an explanation from the President of the Royal Spanish Sailing Federation, Gerardo Pombo, who hours before the publication of the list of countries of the aforementioned voting was defending tooth and nail that Spain had voted in favour of windsurf. Once the list was made public he rectified and issued a statement on RFEV’s website, recognizing the mistake: 'It was just a mistake, a simple voting mistake.' As if to tick a box was so difficult so that one would err in something so transcendental, in this case for the Olympic discipline of windsurfing and all the infrastructure that was put in place throughout all those years.
Seeliger is believed to have given a lengthy and passionate address in favour of the Kiteboard, so clearly alarms should have been sounding amongst the Spanish and Portuguese support team, if indeed he was genuinely confused.
Further Spain is a world force in the Olympic windsurfing discipline, so a vote against the current Olympic event would probably have had a very significant impact on his country's Olympic medal chances in 2016.
Additionally, like many other established and developing sailing countries, the Spanish Federation had invested heavily in windsurfer development. For the RFEV with the the financial support of their Olympic Committee, this investment, had resulted in several world championship wins.
That confusion was again attacked in a tirade on Spanish TV news , by Blanca Manchón, who is also a former ISAF Sailor of the Year, when she verbally launched at the Spanish Federation. The same RFEV who was last in the international headlines for their endorsement of the Club Nautico de Vela – a paper yacht club they helped establish, and whose doubtful challenge for the America’s Cup triggered a three year in the New York Supreme Court.
The statement issued by RFEV read in part:
'In fact, during the recent years RFEV has heavily invested in the development of future windsurfing promises, through the National Plan for Modernization. Moreover, the current Spanish Olympic sailing team has some of the best windsurfers in the world that have been and are all serious contenders at a medal both at the previous Olympics and the next ones this summer.
Blanca Manchon (ESP) RS:X Women - Semaine Olympique Francais 2011
'Furthermore, in other committees of the ISAF, where Spain is represented, such as the Event Committee, the Spanish representatives had voted in favour of windsurfing. These committees had almost unanimously supported the maintenance of the RS: X, although they were only advisory to the Council.
'Despite this, at the last moment the Spanish representative in the ISAF Council gave his vote for the kite, an error caused by the confusion of the voting system. The Federation President, Gerardo Pombo, takes responsibility for this error and wants to apologize to all Spanish windsurfers.'
The other two countries in Area E, Portugal and Andorra have not come out with official comment on the vote of their representative; however it is believed that Portugal supported the status quo – the retention of Windsurfing.
Venezuela outs its Vice-President
Next up was the letter from the Venezuelan Federation of Sail, http://www.sail-world.com/index.cfm?nid=97201!disassociating_itself from the vote of one of its nationals, ISAF Vice President Teresa Lara. She was one of seven ISAF Vice-Presidents allowed a vote. Five of these voted in favour of the Kiteboard and only two in favour of the retention of the Windsurfer. While Vice-Presidents, and indeed all Councillors are allowed a free vote, in terms of doing what is best for the sport, this notion must be sheeted to reality in terms of the impact on the sport, in the region they represent.
Venezuela is bundled into Area O in the ISAF Council and has two representatives, one from the Cayman Islands and the other from the Dominican Republic. Of the 22 countries in the Group, only two, Cuba (1948) and Bahamas (1956) have won Olympic sailing medals.
It is not known if Venezuela thought their interests were covered by Lara, their Vice President. However their reaction was fairly clear when Venezuelan Federation of Sail issued a statement advising their 'total and absolute disagreement with the decision made by the representative of Venezuela within ISAF (V.P Teresa Lara Anzola).'
Neighbouring Brazil an Olympic powerhouse, in Group N along with Paraguay, voted for the Windsurfer. As did Group M comprising Argentina, Chile, Ecuador, Peru and Uruguay.
Asian and Indian reaction
Since May, the flurried reaction has not diminished.
An email from the Windsurfing Association of Singapore says that a meeting will be held on June 30, 2012 of the Asian Sailing Federation to consider their situation. The ASF has 26 member countries and spans three of the 17 ISAF Council Regions. Some are minnows in terms of their international sailing footprint, but others such as China and Japan have hosted Olympic Games.
ISAF Council Vote Sheet - Windsurfer vs Kiteboard 2016 Olympics
The Councillor for Area K, which contains India and Singapore and six other nations, voted for the Kiteboard. The Board Sailing Association of India claims that the Yachting Association of India instructed the Councillor, Ajay Balram, that they wished to maintain the status quo, in other words – Vote for the Windsurfer.
The letter dated June 14, 2012 claims that 'Mr Balram by his own admission did not bother to consult us or any of the Group K Countries and voted for Kitesurfing (sic), in spite of knowing full well that Kitesurfing (sic) does not exist in India.'
'His vote was crucial in Windsurfing being removed from the 2016 Olympic Games' the letter adds – a reference to the 19-17 vote on the ISAF Council. One vote the other way would have tied the ballot, and forced the ISAF President to exercise casting votes which by tradition and rules of meeting conduct, is for the retention of the status quo.
Ajay Balram responded to these comments, denying that any instruction had been received from the Yachting Association of India (YAI) or any other nation within Area K (India, Indonesia, Malayasia, Myanmar, Pakistan,Singapore, Sri lanka and Thailand)
'I would state categorically that no instructions were given to me by YAI ( or by any other Group K MNA) on voting on this item of the agenda', he told Sail-World.com.
'At the ISAF Council meetings in May in Stresa a Council Member of YAI who was present asked me (on behalf of YAI ) to vote in favour of the 29erXX skiff as the double hander for 2016 which I duly did.'
'Nothing was said with regard to the Winsurfer/Kitesurfer vote either by the YAI Council member, nor by two members of the Singapore Sailing Association Council who were present during the meetings. I received NO(sic) brief from any of them at or before the meetings.
'In the absence of any views passed to me by the Group K for placing before the Council I acted in accordance with the ISAF Constitution.
'No communication has been received by me to date since the meeting from YAI or from any of the member MNAs of Group K,' he added.
Then came the turn of Singapore’s TP Low, another ISAF Vice President. Low has been attacked by the President of the Windsurfing Association Singapore (WAS), claiming in an email in mid-June that Low did not consult the Singapore Sailing Federation and WAS before making his decision.
Tim Khoo, President of WAS writes ‘it is necessary that I clear up that Singapore does NOT (sic) support Kitesurfing (sic). It is actually banned on our beaches because of the close proximity to the airport.
WAS and SSF stand firmly behind Windsurfing as we have put a lot of time, effort and money into training our windsurfers, in the hope that they will peak for the 2016 Olympics. Audrey Young is a product of this program and she won a Bronze medal in the Inaugural Youth Olympics in 2010.
Kiting on the other hand has no program in place, nor will there be plans to train 'sailors' (sic) for this event. There is not even a Kitesurfing (sic) Association in Singapore.'
Khoo’s email cites the meeting to be held on June 30, 2012 as an Extraordinary General Meeting to 'question the voting Asian representative who comes from India' along with TP Low.
ISAF Council under the spotlight
If proven to be correct, the allegations made, call into serious question the process of the ISAF decision making process at Council level. One error is perhaps understandable but the extent of this level of disconnection at the top echelon of the ISAF decision making process is not.
ISAF Council - ISAF Annual Conference 2010
That concern is mirrored by the decision of the ISAF Events Committee who recommended by a vote of 17-2 in favour of the retention of the Windsurfer for the 2016 Olympics, but supported bringing kiteboarding into the ISAF World Cup circuit from 2013.
At the same Mid-Year Meeting, after the Events Committee had given the ISAF Council a recommendation to make a choice between the 49er FX and the RS900 for the Womens Olympic Skiff event, having conducted an expensive set of Evaluation Trials in March, and then deliberated the options.
Despite being excused from further consideration in the Evaluation Committee Report, the 29erXX was bought back into the ISAF Council as a third option and seemed to have an orchestrated voting bloc working for its selection.
The move to bring the 29erXX into the equation, plus the organised support was nearly enough to spring another surprise choice in the Womnes Olympic Skiff event selection, until some Councillors were able to sway the argument, with the 49erXX emerging with 19 votes, the 29erXX 14 and two votes for the RS900.
While it is all very fine to say that Councillors have a free vote and act in the best interests of the sport, in a democracy, those decisions must be held accountable to the sailors and regions they represent. The ISAF Constitution requires that Council members 'shall have regard to the interest of the sport of yachting throughout the world as a whole.'
That requirement notwithstanding, surely it is not acceptable for Councillors to vote without being in touch with their member regions and national federations, given the significant investment that is made in training programs and equipment for an event such as windsurfing. Where is their compass?
The reactions of the affected Associations is expected to made known in a number of ways – by direct repudiation of their representatives as RFEV has done. There may be some sanction imposed on what some might consider rogue Councillors by their regions and/or national bodies as Venezuela have done. Or there may be some names missing, when the ISAF Council and Vice Presidents are nominated in November, for the coming four years.
Of the three notional ISAF Presidential candidates only one Carlo Croce (ITA), a substitute for Councillor Sergio Gaibisso (ITA) Group D, voted the Windsurfer.
Of the other two, Puerto Rican, Eric Tulla, one of seven ISAF Vice Presidents voted for the Kiteboard. David Kellett (AUS) is ISAF Treasurer and does not have a vote.
In a further twist, two weeks after the Mid-year Meeting, Surfing New Zealand http://www.stuff.co.nz/sport/other-sports/6911063/Surfing-yachting-fight-for-the-rights-to-kites!claimed_jurisdiction over Kiteboarding from Yachting New Zealand, highlighting the fact that the ISAF Council had promoted an event into the Olympics for which very few of its members had affiliated associations within their ranks.
The next meeting of the ISAF will be in Ireland in November.
But this is an issue that will not go away.