Australian Sailing team to turn Gold into grass roots participation
by Jeni Bone on 20 Aug 2012
Just back in the country from a triumphant performance at Weymouth during the 2012 London Olympic Games, some of the Australian Sailing team is already on the promotional trail.
Tom Slingsby victorious - August 6, 2012 - Weymouth, England Richard Gladwell www.photosport.co.nz
Tom Slingsby, Mathew Belcher, Malcolm Page and Iain Jensen are making waves at Audi Hamilton Island Race week, celebrating, showing their medals and practicing the 'Key Messages' that will be crucial to converting gold to grassroots take up of the sport.
'They did exceptionally well,' concurs Yachting Australia CEO, Phil Jones, referring to Australia’s most successful sailing team ever, bringing home three Gold medals and one Silver. 'Now we have our eyes on Rio and taking it to the next level.'
Before Rio in 2016, Yachting Australia has a strategy to drive interest and participation in sailing, at every level.
'We have programs in place for people who just want to try it at entry level, right up to racing around the world. Now, it’s up to us, and most importantly, at Club level, to show people sailing is fun, accessible and easy to get into.'
According to Jones, Clubs’ involvement in their communities will be the way to 'promote membership and bring people in to the sport'.
'After all, there’s only so much organisations like ours can do. Strategies and initiatives like ‘Discover Sailing’ and our Tackers program have to be implemented at the grass roots level,' says Jones referring to the YA initiatives which seek to demystify sailing and give people of all ages and skill levels hands-on experiences.
'We will be using our athletes to promote these initiatives, as well as the key messages,' asserts Jones.
Those messages include: sailing is a sport for anybody, young or old; it’s in our blood – sailing is part of our past and a vibrant part of our culture; it’s accessible and easy to get involved in.
'It’s great for kids. But people of all ages can sail. What other sport can you take up at 35 or 40 years old and rise to Olympic level after a few years?' asks Jones, referring of course to some of our celebrated sailors nudging 40 and over.
There are also plenty of seasoned salts racing competitively in regattas around the world, the America’s Cup, Volvo Ocean Race and Rolex Sydney to Hobart.
Creative Director at March One, Ben Coverdale believes it’s a 'no-brainer' that sailing will enjoy invigorated participation – people returning to the sport and young kids expressing interest in joining local Clubs.
'Australians follow sporting success,' he observes. 'In the same way that some kids choose to bowl spin like Shane Warne, this year, there will be a spike in kids wanting to sail like Malcolm Page, Mathew Belcher, Olivia Price, Nina Curtis and Lucinda Whitty.
'I also think the types of boats sailed were perfect for growing the sport. They were small boats. Boats which look affordable, safe and fun. Boats that parents might imagine buying for kids.'
As for the appeal of our Olympians, Jones is adamant they have what it takes to capture the imaginations of the media and public.
'Tom Slingsby’s gold attracted some of the sports journalists who may not normally attend sailing. They came down to Weymouth and ended up loving everything about the competition, the atmosphere, the boats, and Tom. Tom winning in a Laser showed people another side of sailing, compared to just seeing the Sydney to Hobart yachts and thinking that’s competitive sailing.'
As well as talent, personality is on tap in this Olympic team, says Jones. 'We are blessed with this batch of athletes that they are smart, charismatic and capable of taking our messages to the public.'
State organisations, Clubs, sponsors, events, websites and social media will harnessed to get the images and messages of Australian sailors to the public. Interestingly, key to the approach to competition at Weymouth was a focus on 'keeping the noise down'.
The sailing team had a self-imposed ban on Facebook and Twitter, says Jones. Reading and being swept up in the hype can have a negative effect on psychology and hence, affect performance.
Now they’re back and determined to make some noise.
More at www.yachting.org.au
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