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ISAF hits new low with 2012 Olympic Events

by Richard Gladwell on 13 Dec 2007
The ISAF Council meet to make a decision which has been widely condemned in the sailing fraternity ISAF ©
The 2007 ISAF Annual Conference in Estoril, Portugal, produced an unprecedented backlash against the world sailing body.

While never too well regarded by your average sailor, the perception of Council, as a governing group generally out of touch with their sport, and influenced by lobbyists, was confirmed in the minds of many.

The Hot Topic was the always contentious slate of Events and Classes to be sailed at the Olympics five years hence. In this case, those for the 2012 Sailing Olympics set down for Weymouth on the English south coast. This year, sand was added to the ISAF engine oil, by the International Olympic Committee's cost cutting measure, requiring the reduction from 11 events to ten for 2012.

While not normally the smoothest running beast, this year the ISAF engine spluttered and crashed its way through the week, before finally melting down as the delegates returned home from the Conference.

First group to discuss and vote on an Events slate was the Womens Committee, who produced a two option report – one with an evenly balanced slate of five womens events. And, then did what they were asked for – producing a list of four preferred women’s events to be lined up with the six Open/Mens events – and achieve the IOC required reduction from 11 events in the Sailing Olympics to meet the IOC prescribed reduction in the number of sailors.

The difference between the two slates of events from the Womens Committee lay in the discarding the Two Person Dinghy - High Performance, to quote the quaint ISAF terminology. High Performance Skiff to everyone else, and HPD for the acronym geeks.

The same Committee did recommend the retention of the Womens Keelboat - and for that event to be match racing (Keelboat Match – Women).

Catwoman speaks up

The matter was then passed onto the Events Committee - a 23 strong group comprising an interesting mix of Crown Princes; recognised top sailors of yesteryear; and administrators of varying hues. Plus one medallist from the recent ISAF Worlds in Cascais, Carolijn Brower, who afterwards opined in SailJuice.com:

'I was gutted after the ISAF meeting in Estoril. I felt empty, confused and especially useless. I am a member of the Events Committee but at this moment I truly don’t really know what I’m doing there and whether it has any meaning.

'Of course I’m very disappointed ISAF kicked out the Multihull and is taking a huge step backwards in sailing by not including the High Performance dinghy for Women. They are too scared to take a possible risk and move forward.

'But most of all, I am disappointed about the Events selection procedure. The members of the Events Committee have been chosen by their MNAs because they are the so called experts in the issues/areas that involve Events, including Olympic Games and Olympic Event Selection.

'The normal procedure is that the voting on respective issues that involve Events is done on our Committee and we then put them forward as a recommendation to Council. Council usually accepts our recommendation.

'This time however they just chucked it out the window and started all over again. So, what are we actually doing there as an Events Committee if our expertise is not being used anyway?'

Mindful of subtle nudgings by various reviews conducted by the International Olympic Committee since 2002, the Events Committee gave the slate, put forward by the Womens Committee, a trim rather than a full haircut, producing its own slate of six Men’s and four Women’s events for consideration later in the week by the ISAF Council.

Events chopped the keelboat from both its slates, with the High Performance two hander coming back on the Women’s side, and the current seven, minus the Keelboat Fleetracing event on the other.

The Jones' perspective

Phil Jones (AUS) is a member of the ISAF Events Committee, the second group meeting in Estoril, to consider the vexed issue of which event should be eliminated from the 2012 sailing Olympics in Weymouth.

He takes up the story: 'Our view was that the Events Committee heeded the messages that IOC has been sending, accepted the need to make the sport more attractive, and took account of ISAF’s own efforts to introduce changes to make the competition more understandable to the non sailing audience.

'The Events Committee position was right. The outcome was close in couple of cases. But that served the future development of the sport bearing in mind where ISAF needed to take it.

'The balance of six men’s and four women’s events I believe is right at the moment. That may change in one or two Olympiads time to a five men’s and five women’s events.'.

Although some would claim that the IOC’s Review comments were only advisory, the Events Committee took a more prescriptive view.

'The 2002 and 2005 IOC Commission reports provided an amalgamation of what ISAF has done to make the Olympics more attractive. From the 2005 report it is clear that ISAF have claimed that they have introduced faster more exciting boats. The recent decision appears to fly in the face of this.' Jones told Sail-World.

'Setting aside the comments that relate to sailing specifically, the general context of where the IOC see the Olympic Games being positioned, as outlined in the reports, should be considered. Anyone genuinely interested in this issue should read both reports in context.'

'We also had some concerns in respect of womens match racing and how it can be made to work, not not so much in the Olympics, but in the four years beforehand.

'Which crews get places in the events? Which sixteen or thirty-two crews do you invite to Hyeres Week and then to the Holland Regatta four weeks later? How does that actually fit in with what we are promoting in the other nine Olympic Events with medal races and all that entails?

'It is fair to assume that everyone is going to want to match race in the Olympic boat once it is chosen. Those who think it won't be about the boat, and time in it, don't understand the pressures of the Olympics. How are the organisers going to supply these boats and meet the additional overhead of the umpires required? We are policing Rule 42 on the water, we’re direct judging the medal race and all this is going on while we have umpiring for the whole the week for match racing. There could be more officials than sailors needed at some of these events!'

'Given all of this, is there an argument for Match Racing to be held separately from the other 9 Olympic Events that make up the Olympic classes Grade 1 Regattas, perhaps as part of the existing circuit of match racing events. You then have to look on the effect on how women's match racing is now practised.'

'There may well be answers to these questions, but we didn’t know the answers at the time decision was made - and nobody could tell us. We could see quite a few thorns in it.'

Back to the Future for Match Racing?

Perhaps the Events Committee was also mindful of the fact that Match racing was introduced into the Olympic calendar on the Men’s side in 1992 and remained until 2000. The idea being that the event would attract some of the top names in the sport adding some profile to the Sailing Olympics.

In summary, the match racing experiment was a great idea which largely failed to deliver because of Qualification issues and process.


In spite of having top match racers competing, sailors such as Russell Coutts and Rod Davis, were unable to progress beyond the qualification stage – held in fleet racing. In 1992 the 24 strong Soling fleet was cut to just six after the fleetracing round – the only way in which an IOC acceptable qualification process could be conducted.

Rather than being a planned a match racing

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