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Double Olympic medallist responds to US Sailing

by Bruce Kendall on 24 May 2012
Bruce Kendall winning his Gold Medal in the 1988 Olympics . ..

Double Olympic windsurfing medalist, Bruce Kendall (NZL) responds to the US Sailing's reasoning as to why the US national sailing body chose to vote for the Kiteboard as an event for the 2016 Olympic Regatta.

Earlier this month, at its Mid-Year Meeting in Stresa, Italy, the ISAF Council voted by a margin of 19 votes to 17 to replace the Windsurfer with the Kiteboard, following a series of Evaluation Trials for Kiteboarding only in march at Santander, Spain.

US Sailing was challenged to state its reasons for backing the Kiteboarding discipline, and responded today.

Bruce Kendall winner of the Bronze medal at the Los Angeles Olympics, and Gold at the Busan, Korea Olympics in 1988 is now a keen kiteboarder.

He writes:

I would like to thank Jake for having the fortitude to stand up & to explain US Sailings decision to replace windsurfing with Kite surfing.

Clearly Jake Fish and Dean Brenner & the board of US sailing have not done very deep research on the costs, risks & benefits of this subject & been part of this poorly made decision to remove windsurfing from the Olympic Games in Rio.

Why would anyone replace the second strongest Olympic Sailing class with a class largely unproven? Would it not be more sensible to replace a class not doing so well?

This decision appears to be the least sensible decision ISAF has made to keep sailing in the Olympic Games to this date.

It is sure many top RSX sailors will swap from windsurfing to kite racing & be very competitive.
They are all very aware of what is in store for them & look forward to the challenge, but realize the increased; risks for serious injury, costs & logistics for Kite racing compared to windsurfing.
They all realize windsurfing is a better choice than kite racing for the RIO Olympics.

I respond to Jake’s statements from US Sailing explaining their decision to replace windsurfing with Kite surfing below.

I have not taken any of his letter out of contextand& have put all of his comments in inverted commas.

'Every four years, difficult decisions are made about Olympic sailing events. The choices made always leave some part of the sailing community frustrated and feeling, at least on some level, disenfranchised. I say this as a former Soling sailor who was quite upset with decisions made in November 2000, and a long-time keelboat sailor who did not agree with the recent decisions to exclude keelboats from the Games entirely. I know, first hand, how it feels to have the part of the sport I care most about excluded.'

Most will agree with Jake that fleet to match racing in keel boats being dropped from the Olympics after 2000 was a backwards step, especially considering the retention of the Star for a further 12 years.

A keelboat should be in the Olympics. It is well represented placed in the Para Olympics & able-bodied sailors should have more opportunity to race against those handicapped sailors.

Possibly a mixed keel boat class would have been more sensible than mixed multi hull? No disrespect intended.

Now that the America's Cup is on multi hull, possibly this should be the Olympic Fleet to Match racing class? All food for thought.

Previous dubious decisions do not make following dubious discussions OK.

'There is no right and wrong here, or good and bad. On behalf of US Sailing, I would like to raise my hand and explain the reasoning behind the votes.'

History has proven there are always right and wrong decisions and some times both sides weigh equally.
Wrong decisions are more likely to be made when the subject has not been thoroughly been researched or there is a vested interest.

Weighing up all the facts of this decision, at this time it appears the May 5th decision to replace windsurfing with Kite racing is a wrong decision.

'While the Board of US Sailing makes final decisions on all recommendations to our ISAF delegation, much of the thinking on Olympic events and equipment originates in the Olympic Sailing Committee, which I lead. The OSC believes, and I continue to support this 100%, that kites will be good for the sport of sailing, worldwide. The reasons are simple:'

'1. Kite boarding is an exciting and rapidly growing area of the sport.'


Kite racing is currently a small and undeveloped sport compared to windsurfing was back to the mid 1970's.

It is still too early to judge if kite racing is a narrow niche sport with a low ceiling of participants and if the numbers would naturally continue to increase without the Olympic ticket.

Currently the majority of Kite retailers have not stocked kite-racing boards as the evolution of design has been too fast and superseded designs have to be sold at below cost.

Most of the Kite board brands have not invested in building kite racing board molds & are waiting for the evolution to slow down as it has been too hard to sell racing boards to retailers.

The major Kite board manufacturers have not been making many racing boards for some time due to the above reasons.

As a consequence, Kite racing boards are not widely available and kite racing has not been enjoying the same growth the rest of the Kite boarding market has.

'2. The infrastructure required will be minimal.'

This is a non-argument to replace windsurfing, but is an argument to replace some of the other Olympic Sailing Classes.

Infrastructure for windsurfing is less than required for kite racing as the boards are the same size & Kite rigging and launching areas require more space than to rig & launch windsurfers.

Windsurfing certainly requires less infrastructure than all other sailing classes.

The infrastructure in terms of developing kite surfing compared to windsurfing may in fact be more in some locations where a higher ratio of support boats to sailors may be required.

'3. The potential exists to bring in new countries to the sport of Olympic Sailing, and at Council, there was support from every continent and region: Europe, Caribbean, South America, North America, Oceania, Asia, Africa and the Mid-East.'

Potential also exists also for windsurfing to continue to bring new countries more than other Olympic sailing classes.

This is proven with RSX's track record of the growing number of nations trying to qualify for the Olympic Games in Windsurfing at the last RSX class world champs in Cadiz in 2012.

The only thing that has stopped Olympic windsurfing's continued advance is ISAF changing the class every 8 years. The laser class is larger than the RSX, but how long has it been intact?

Many new countries just as before, will not be able to compete in Kite racing due to a lack of ability to:

1. Keep pace with design evolution
2. Lack of ability to competitive equipment
3. Compete against established nations with good programs.

'4. Kites can be sailed close to shore, increasing spectator possibilities.'

The length of the size of the fin is almost the same as the RSX so in fact there is no difference about being close to the shore.

It is only ISAF that have restricted the RSX class's ability to compete close to the beach.

In off shore gusty conditions windsurfing can in fact compete closer to the beach than Kites.

Little has been said about the limitations of kite racing due to unsuitable weather, launching and landing conditions.

'5. There have been major advancements in safety, and the evaluation report said exactly that. Those interested in this debate really should read that report, linked here.'

The report was widely circulated and before the May 5th meeting.

An official letter was sent by Ben Barger the ISAF Athletes rep asking for more detail and solid evidence to back the claims. It has never been replied to.

Evidence to refute some of the statements in the report was already common knowledge. The Safety issues have never been fully answered.

Kites are banned in many more places than all other windsurfing and sailing often due to actual historical safety reasons in that area.

Kite surfing has possibly had more serious accidents in the last 5 years than the whole of sailing combined.
Safety concerns are a factor in any sport and for many parents, safety & liability is a reason some choose not to do a sport.

'Is there work to be done? Every time events or equipment are changed, work is required. There will ALWAYS be more work to get a new event established vs. the continuation of an existing one.'

When some thing is not broken and already established, there is a lot less work to do than with an unknown quantity.

By 2015 everyone would have seen kite racing naturally evolve without as much 'panicked action to get up to speed' and risk as it will be experienced now.

Environmental costs and the carbon footprint of Olympic Sailing should be more of a consideration at this time.

It appears that ISAF and US Sailing has thrown a good toy out of the pram on impulse for some thing new that may not be an improvement. What is the environmental cost to this action?

'Does US Sailing have work to do in supporting the industry’s pipeline development? Of course. For kite boarding to flourish, the kite boarding community will need to commit to increased support in this area. US Sailing will work on developing pathways for kite sailors to make the Olympics, just as it has done in other classes.'

It appears US Sailing has done very little if anything to support the windsurfing industries' 'pipe line development.'

This has been clearly reflected by USA's Olympic windsurfing and sailing results since 1992.

US Sailing may not realize that their inadequate approach to developing and promoting all kinds of Olympic Sailing in the US and close developing nations has partially jeopardized sailing's position as an Olympic sport.

I hope for those in the US, & the rest of the world, US Sailing will be more mind full of all sailing sports & their development & promotion than it has been.

'The decisions on Olympic events and equipment are never easy. But I stand behind ISAF’s decision 100%. Kite boarding will be good for the sport of sailing, in the USA and worldwide.'

If well-researched & considered logical steps are taken in a timely fashion, correct decisions are much more easily and likely to be reached.

Kite racing is good for the sport of sailing. It is too early to know if it will be good for and compatible with the Olympic Sailing Classes. Another four years would have proved this.

Certainly the loss of Windsurfing is a great loss for the Olympic Sailing as it is proven to be the most affordable to campaign and largely focuses on the difference between the sailor’s efforts and ability and not on the checkbook.

The very large numbers and range of nations currently competing on a large range of windsurfers around the globe dwarfs the numbers kite racing.

Why drop the second strongest Olympic sailing class in the world for a sport not fully proven? This makes no sense.

I am extremely disappointed that US Sailing has not supported windsurfing in the US or globally.

US sailing have a disproportional influence compared to Asian countries [the main area to next develop sailing ]

Asian nations are big losers in this decision as they are by far more successful in windsurfing than any other form of sailing

ISAF and US sailing may not have considered that dropping windsurfing from the Olympics may actually further erode Sailing's already current tenuous position as an Olympic sport.

There are already comments in the IOC from those that have influence and a vote regarding which sports remain Olympic and consider dropping windsurfing to be a backwards step for sailing.

I hope ISAF and US sailing reconsider their decisions in a timely fashion.

Sail-World Many of the major sailing nations have been caught between a rock and a hard place by the ISAF Council decision of which Yachting NZ is probably the most extreme example. All the Olympic medals won by New Zealand in the past 20 years since the 1992 Olympics have been around the necks of windsurfers. However in a statement issued after the ISAF Council decision CEO, David Abercrombie said 'We have recently invested significant resources into rebuilding windsurfing within our development programmes. This is a major setback but if it’s a fait accompli, we will have to adapt and get up to speed as soon as we can'.

So far the NZ body has not made an announcement as to whether it will continue to push the lines contained in an earlier submission to the International Sailing Federation seeking medals for both Windsurfing and Kiteboarding. Last week YNZ held a meeting at its Auckland headquarters attended by 60 people interested in Kiteboarding. A couple of days later, at a Special General meeting called to consider constitutional changes one delegate took the organisation to task over its stance to the issue, and underlined the financial commitment that many parents and sailors have made in windsurfing, and pathways to the former Olympic discipline.

In its evaluation of Kiteboarding, International Sailing Federation team did not comment on development pathways for the new discipline, which remains in the ISAF Youth Worlds, and has well established programs in many countries leading into this waypoint on the Olympic path.

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