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ISAF Revolution - Unintended consequences for Olympic classes?

by Rob Kothe & the Sail-World Team on 26 Oct 2013
Laser Worlds 2008, Terrigal (Australia) © Andrea Francolini Photography http://www.afrancolini.com/
Sail-World reported two weeks ago that a revolutionary proposal designed to change the nature of Olympic class sailing competitions at all levels is to be presented to the ISAF Council in mid-November 2013 in Oman.

We said at the time this proposal will have a major impact on the current Olympic Class World Championships which will if this proposal if accepted, be completely restructured.

Here is a critique of the proposed ISAF Sailing World Championships structure from a senior Laser class representative, Rob Lowndes

He writes ‘Thanks to Sail-World we have been alerted to a proposal to radically alter the structure of World Championships for Olympic classes. The preview can be viewed by clicking here .

‘I cannot speak for other classes but I do believe the arguments put forward in the proposal are flawed and could have serious consequences for the future of the Laser class, arguably the most successful international class in the history of sailing. I assume the paper will be presented to the Events Committee at the ISAF annual Conference in mid-November although I notice it is not easy to find on the ISAF website.

‘Why listen to me? I have sailed Lasers for almost 40 years at all levels in Australia and at the masters level in international competition. I was Chairman of the Organising Committee for the 2008 Laser World Championships at Terrigal in Australia and have been Chairman of the NSW & ACT District and continue to be the masters representative for that district and the Australian Laser Class Association.

‘The NSW & Act District is one of the largest and most successful Laser districts in the world. I have had the honour and privilege of racing against the top sailors in the world and it is a feature of our class that all Laser sailors have that opportunity. I live and breathe the class and mix with sailors at all levels so I do believe my views are worth listening to!

‘Here are my problems with the proposal.

• The paper admits the ISAF World Cup has not been a success but does not say why. I presume it is because the events have not been supported by all the top sailors and the press interest has been minimal. As best as I can tell the paper gives no evidence as to why the proposed championship structure will do any better other than an optimistic view that the new structure will be flooded with sponsorship money and TV rights.

• The 'Background' statement says that the Presidential Forums have developed a new mission for ISAF which is totally biased towards Olympic sailing. There is no mention of supporting and strengthening the classes as a whole.

• The opening slide is headed:
'INCREASING THE VALUE OF ELITE-LEVEL OLYMPIC SAILING
(increasing the value of sailing at all levels as a result)'.
It is the second line which really worries me. How will it do so?

• One of the great things about the success of Australia’s Laser (including of course Radial) sailors at an international level has been the ability of other Laser sailors to sail against the elite sailors at club, district and national level. That contact has allowed up and coming sailors to sail against the best and to be inspired by them. The tour card holders under the proposed format will have little or no time to sail in club, district or even national events at home. This is a serious issue for the ongoing success of domestic regattas and for retaining young sailors in the class. Hence, opposite to the claim on ISAF’s opening slide, the proposal will be to the detriment of 'sailing at all levels' for the Laser class.

• The Laser is the most wide spread (by country) class in the world. To reduce Rounds 1 - 4 to just 25 boats (probably from less than 20 countries) and to 10 for the Grand Final is a joke and will simply not attract the sponsorship funds apparently forecast by OC Sport whose experience seems limited to extreme sailing events. It will also detract from the attractiveness of the class to the large number of countries which will not be represented on the tour card circuit. To rely on large sponsorship is wishful thinking. Sponsorship is not easy to get – for the first time Sail Sydney was abandoned this year due to lack of sponsorship.


• The ILCA has run Laser World Championships since the inception of the class and has set the standard for other classes to follow. To relegate ILCA’s role to the fifth tier Round 5 is an insult to the class and will hardly receive the multi-country support of the current annual World Laser Championships.

We all want our sport to prosper and to receive more recognition. Those of us who love it know it is a participant sport and not a spectator sport. We are kidding ourselves if we think a world championship in the Olympic classes is going to attract the attention of, say, the America’s Cup and significant sponsorship. And even with the America’s Cup it was only when it became close racing at the end that it gained any interest and it still received very little recognition in the USA other than from sailors and San Francisco residents!

I urge our ISAF representatives to vote against the proposal.

Robert Lowndes
Great Grand Master Laser sailor
lowndesr@bigpond.net.au
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