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Sailing and Television – an unholy alliance

by Bob Fisher on 20 Aug 2008
Qingdao Olympic Regatta 2008 Beijing Outside Broadcast (BOB) Guy Nowell © http://www.guynowell.com

Is the harvesting of the share of television rights monies by ISAF too high a price to pay for the incursion of Great God Television into our sport?

While it does provide the major share of the income of the international federation, the price that is paid for it by the interference into the Olympic regatta would appear questionable.


Live television makes unwelcome demands on the competitors and organisers of the races because of the timing constraints of television scheduling. To fit sailboat races to a time table is to lose the flexibility that is important to the creation of top class races, and the sailors at the Olympic regatta deserve the ultimate in races, even when the races are forced to be held in less than perfect places.

What it doesn’t deserve is to be held to ransom in the way that the RS:X Men’s fleet was for its medal race – one that lasted a mere 19 minutes and three seconds.

Not in the interest of the competitors, but simply to fit in with television scheduling. The Women’s event, held in much the same (official) wind strength, went the full twice around course and lasted 31 minutes and ten seconds.

No official reason has been given for the shorter length of the Men’s event and there are those who were disappointed by the shorter course.

Anyone who has had anything to do with the television coverage of sailing will be totally aware of the fragility of live coverage. At best it is a risk and all too frequently is a disaster because of the weather conditions.

Editing it into properly prepared packages can be exciting – one only has to see the CNN Mainsail show to discover how to make our sport exciting on the small screen.

It would also eliminate the pressure on race organisers to have the course ready at a given time when the wind is anything but steady in direction. The race, and the televising of it, would therefore be of a higher quality. In addition it would allow racing to take place over a reasonable course, independent of time constraints.

The medal race might be of less dubious value if the television coverage was properly edited and shown a short time after the racing had been held. The viewers would appreciate the efforts that had been made on their behalf and the viewing figures would be considerably higher – the switch-over inclination when some of the medal races have been shown live, would be dramatically reduced.

It is time for ISAF to reconsider the position and to offer to assist television without rolling over and giving everything away. The sailors, who the federation claims to serve, deserve a better deal.
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