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Yachting NZ caught in OSAF 'friendly fire' over Olympic events

by Richard Gladwell on 30 Oct 2012
JP Tobin (NZL) competing in the Mens Windsurfer at the 2012 Olympic Regatta © Richard Gladwell http://www.richardgladwell.com

Yachting New Zealand has confirmed that both Area L (Oceania) representatives will be voting in favour of Kiteboards at the upcoming Annual meeting of the International Sailing Federation, despite lodging its own submission which supports the re-reinstatement of the Windsurfer as an Olympic event.

The lengthy, but very compelling, Yachting New Zealand submission (http://www.sailing.org/tools/documents/054122016OlympicEventsandEquipmentRegulation23.1.4-%5B13512%5D.pdf!click_here_to_read) was aimed at upsetting the decision made at the Mid-Year meeting of the international body in Stresa, Italy to introduce kiteboarding for the 2016 Olympics.

That vote was carried by a two-vote majority in what many windsurfers described as an ambush move. After the controversial meeting many national authorities dis-owned their representatives or apologised for their actions. That included the Spanish who said their substitute representative, a university academic, was confused by the voting process. (The then-Councillor Gerardo Seeliger (ESP) is now standing as an ISAF Vice-Presidential candidate.)

Six months later as the battle lines have hardened with some very aggressive lobbying, Yachting New Zealand has found itself in the position where it is supporting the reinstatement of the windsurfer at the Events Committee level, the first stage of the ISAF meeting process. But at the next level, the ISAF Council, Ralph Roberts, the New Zealand based representative will be forced to vote the other way. There is a third level, the ISAF Assembly, held once every four years where the matter could be raised yet again.

Yachting New Zealand Chief Executive, David Abercrombie, told Sail-World that YNZ was stuck between a rock and a hard place as a result of a decision by the new regional body, Oceania Sailing Federation, to vote the same way with both its votes at ISAF Council level.

'Unfortunately at the ISAF Council it is not New Zealand’s vote to exercise but the countries of Area L's vote. The Councillors must represent what the majority of the countries want and Area L includes nine nations. We have to respect the democratic process.'

'Australia and the majority of the Pacific Island nations support the decision for kite-board racing to be introduced and as a result the two Area L representatives on ISAF Council will vote to not re-open the equipment slate decision,' he added.

(For the correct position see Clause 39 of the http://www.sailing.org/tools/documents/CONSTITUTIONUpdatedMay2012-%5B13340%5D.pdf!ISAF_Constitution which sets out the voting obligations of Councillors)

A different beat?
Abercrombie's comments indicate that Yachting New Zealand is now marching to the beat of a different drum, as there have been numerous instances where the Australians and New Zealanders have voted differently on Olympic Events and other matters, including the same issue at the May 2012 Mid-Year meeting.

There are nine countries which comprise OSAF, of which only two, Australia and New Zealand field significant Olympic teams. The Cook Islands were the only other member of OSAF to compete at the 2012 Olympics in the Womens Singlehander finishing well down the field. That entry was by wild card, rather than by qualification through world championship placings.

Under the OSAF constitution all countries have a single vote, and at the Labour Day meeting of OSAF, the Pacific Island countries together with Australia all voted for the kiteboard for the 2016 Olympics. The Australian and New Zealand federations fund their own nationals on ISAF business without any contribution from the other countries of Area L.

The OSAF voting situation has some parallels with the America's Cup. It took an International Jury decision to prevent teams competing in the the America's Cup World Series from voting on matters relating to the America's Cup Regatta in which they were not competing.

Australia has an indifferent record at Olympic level in the windsurfer, winning just a single bronze medal across both the Mens and Womens windsurfer discipline since it was introduced in 1984. The Australians have not competed in the Mens Windsurfing event for the last two Olympics.

Clearly the Australian thinking is that a shift to the kiteboarding could only improve the Australian Olympic performance in that type of event. Although Australian Council representative David Tillett claims they are in favour of the Kiteboard because 'we think kiteboarding is a new exciting and visual discipline, and will be a significant addition to the Olympics.'

For New Zealand the situation is far more serious, with Windsurfing winning seven Olympic medals, including three Golds, from eight Olympiads. 'Boats with rudders' had not won a medal since 1992 - a 20 year medal desert.

Without the performance of the Windsurfers, it is likely that Yachting would have been long since dropped as an Olympic sport in terms of receiving funding from then SPARC and now High Performance Sport New Zealand.

The sport in NZ is under a strict medals budget from its funders, and has to act in a way that will maximise New Zealand's medal chances at an Olympics.

Kendall not happy
Triple Olympic medalist in the windsurfer and now International Olympic Committee member, Barbara Kendall, is unhappy with the stance adopted by Yachting New Zealand.

'If New Zealand votes for Kites, NZ will lose much credibility', she told Sail-World, referring to YNZ's apparent flip-flop in support for windsurfing.

'My view in regard to windsurfing vs kitesurfing is that the two should not have been been pitched against each other with the concept that kiteboarding will save Yachting in the Olympic program.

'Due diligence should have been done before the vote was made to see what the consequences of the decision would be.

'The governance structure within ISAF is top heavy so therefore decisions become disjointed.

'I have just taught my daughter to windsurf - she is hooked. I would feel nervous teaching her kiting in NZ in gusty conditions that we have most days', Kendall added

At the Mid-Year Meeting of the ISAF Council the same representatives from Area L (Oceania) were able to vote the way of their respective countries (Australia and New Zealand) which resulted in Australia voting for the Kites and New Zealand for the windsurfers.

It would seem that the Pacific Islands, in cahoots with Australia, have forced New Zealand to switch sides and turn against a sport which has delivered seven medals for New Zealand.

'We were backed into a corner and didn't have a choice,' said Abercrombie. He says that High Performance Sport NZ have been advised of the situation and understand that Yachting NZ just have to run with the situation.

Councillor not invited
The meeting was attended by Andre Raoult (President) and John Tierney (Secretary of OSAF), along with David Kellett (AUS a candidate for ISAF President), Phil Jones (Yachting Australia CEO), David Tillett (Australia). David Abercrombie and YNZ President and ISAF Events Committee member Jan Dawson attended the meeting hosted in Auckland on NZ's Labour Day.

First term ISAF Council representative, but a 20 year ISAF veteran, Ralph Roberts (NZL) is understood not to have been invited to the day long meeting, and did not participate in the discussions on the Olympic events or other matters. Roberts, a former YNZ President and Life Member, flew out of New Zealand on Tuesday night for the ISAF Meeting in Ireland.

Shifting the Olympic board events from Windsurfers to Kiteboards has also flicked the circuit-breaker on the recently established class progression, which gave young sailors the opportunity to start sailing Techno boards before progressing to the RS:X Windsurfer at Youth Worlds level, and then onto the Olympics again using the RS:X.

Abercrombie says that he expected the Techno to remain part of the pathway. 'We have not done any testing with kids of 11-12 years old with kiteboards. We don't know where the class progression is going to go if the Kiteboard stays in but the Techno may well become the pathway', he added.

A key point for ISAF if the Kiteboard does stay in as an Olympic event, will be whether it also comes in at ISAF Youth Worlds level - which will certainly affect any class progression. In any event, Kiteboards will not come in for the next four Youth Worlds, somewhat locking in the progression, in the meantime, through the junior and youth classes.

The ISAF Annual Meeting gets underway on November 1, in Dun Laoghaire, Ireland

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