Andre Raoult, founding President of the Oceania Sailing Federation, has died in a Marseille hospital after a brief battle with recurring cancer.
Originally from France, Andre sailed Olympic class keelboats being in line for Olympic nomination for France, before moving to the South Pacific, living in Tahiti, and settling finally to the Cook Islands.
Andre was the most vocal advocate for sailing in the South Pacific, and was uncompromising in his approach to the dominant sailing countries in the region, Australia and New Zealand.
Andre Raoult, first President of OSAF -
Although a native French speaker, he spoke good English with a thick French accent and gravelly voice. He struggled a little with the Kiwi and Australian accents.
Most in this part of the world only saw Andre in an English environment, but in the Pacific Islands he was in a world that he loved, and in a French-speaking environment he was a Lion of Sailing. You did not argue with Andre on his home patch.
Andre was also the only ISAF certified race official in the South Pacific, outside Australian and New Zealand. He had been an International Judge for over 20 years, and in this capacity he was a frequent visitor to New Zealand - the latest occasion being part of the International Jury for the A-Class Worlds in early February 2014. I first worked with Andre on a Worlds Jury in 1998 in Noumea, and enjoyed his company on several Int Juries since.
It was at this event he felt unwell before the event got underway, was admitted to hospital in Takapuna, and was diagnosed with a recurrence of the cancer he believed he had previously beaten.
Andre’s battle to form the Oceania Sailing Federation was a long one, and politically fraught.
The fact that most sailors in Australian and New Zealand have not heard of OSAF precisely underlines the very issue of how forgotten the world of Pacific sailing is amongst the so-called developed sailing nations of ISAF's Area L.
(The 138 nations which make up the sailing world are split by the international body into groups labeled Areas A to Q. Oceania is Area L comprising nine countries, including New Zealand and Australia.)
Without putting too fine a point on it, Australia and New Zealand national authorities long opposed the formation of OSAF, largely for the reason that they did not want to give away any of their political marbles within the International Sailing Federation. Neither did they wish to see any change in Olympic qualification systems which could have let Pacific Island countries into the Olympics on a regional qualification system. The two National Authorities did little to assist the development of sailing in the South Pacific, unless it was in their own interests.
This was the Everest the Andre Raoult had to climb.
His break through came with the ISAF initiative to completely investigate the sport after the 2008 Olympics, following questions from the International Olympic Committee as to why sailing should remain an Olympic sport.
A key finding of the research by the Olympic Commission, was that in two Areas namely the SW Pacific and Africa the sport was dominated by a few developed sailing countries, who did little to encourage or support others. New Zealand and Australia were probably the worst offenders.
(In the ISAF's Olympic Commission report, it was revealed that in the 2008 Olympics, 43 out of 45 countries that make up the European sailing sector, were represented at the 2008 Olympics in at least one of the 11 classes. In Area L (SW Pacific) there were just two out of nine countries represented, and in Africa there were just three countries represented. Those are not sustainable numbers for a sport which wishes to retain a place at the Olympic Games - and particularly so for one which did not even have a Federation representing the countries of the SW Pacific. On the back of that Report the self-interest of Australian and New Zealand faded a little, and and discussion about the formation of OSAF was treated with more urgency.)
Clearly the superior position of the developed sailing nations could not continue, and from there it was a matter of negotiating a Constitution that was acceptable to all. The existence of OSAF is now a vital foundation stone to help keep Sailing in the Olympics.
With the voting power of the seven other nations in Area L behind him, it was a forgone conclusion that Andre Raoult would be the first President, a position he held for over 10 years, until his death last Thursday night.
Those who know the South Pacific, know that there are some very unique issues, and achievements do not come quickly.
The key items on Andre’s agenda were to see a regional selection for the Olympics using the Pacific Games, and to see a Pacific Sailing base established at Aitutaki in the Cook Islands.
Those causes now remain for others to take over from Andre.
Fair winds John Tierney, Secretary General of the Oceania Sailing Federation, paid this tribute to Andre Raoult:
Kia Orana to the Executive Board and Member Nations of Oceania Sailing Federation
It is with great sadness that I confirm to you all the death of our President and friend Andre Raoult.
Andre slipped away from us all in Marseille, France at 8.30pm on Thursday evening the 20th March 2014. Andre died of cancer. On behalf of each one of you I have conveyed our deepest condolences and love and respect to Andre's wife Linda and all their family on this very sad occasion.
Andre and Linda are very special people who have touched in the lives of so many, many people in Oceania and around the world. This global sailing community today pays tribute to this great man and reflects on Andre's life and the personal manner and nature of Andre's association with each one of us through his beloved sport of Sailing. Andre the sailor, Andre the coach, Andre the instructor, Andre the international Judge, Andre the mentor and Andre the friend. These amazing capacities, personal resources and living images are in themselves a staggering sign of the intensity, completeness and success of Andre's life, His love of Linda Poema Kainuku Raoult and the lifetime of service to the sport he so cherished and lived and loved to the fullest means that almost no words can adequately convey the love and respect that exists in our world for Andre and this truly unique and singularly impressive life and individual. We have been enriched, influenced and improved though the opportunities that our association has benefited each and everyone of us. Thank You Andre for your life and self.
From Andre's Brittany boyhood to Africa, to French Polynesia, to Cook Islands and the Pacific Islands and countries of Oceania to the very last days of his life in Oceania all were so fully engaged with the ocean and sailing that it was only in February this year while Andre and Linda were in Takapuna, Auckland, New Zealand at the 2014 A-Class Catamaran World Championships as an International Judge that he learned the news that he had cancer. Andre and Linda immediately travelled to Marseille, France to the world acclaimed hospital with his own brother as a senior member of its medical staff where Andre underwent further tests and treatment. That was only five weeks ago and will give you the sense of the timing and appreciation of the sudden and unexpected nature of this news of his passing.
One of the last activities as our President of Oceania Sailing Federation was that Andre completed and presented his OSAF Annual Report for 2013 and this was finalised just two weeks ago. Much of the considerable work achieved in 2013 and indeed over the last 10 years since our first meeting in Suva Fiji in 2003 is through the vision and commitment of our President.
The Oceania Sailing Federation progress and achievements over these years are recorded in these annual reports and in Andre's latest and now last Annual Report to us all. We will all sadly miss this great man and our inspirational leader in Oceania Sailing. Let us all celebrate Andre’s life and live the dream and deliver the vision of the future of Oceania Sailing
In the words of his beloved wife Linda, 'Andre is flying to Hawaiki love Linda'. Farewell Andre.
Au revoir mon ami
Oceania Sailing Federation