The following statement was issued by Des Brennan, CEO of Yachting New Zealand in response to the controversy which has erupted over the selection of events for the 2012 Sailing Olympics:
This clarifies the YNZ position following the widely reported leak of a report of the Yachting New Zealand Olympic Committee to Yachting New Zealand, which seemed to indicate that their voting at the recent ISAF meeting should be to drop the multihull and high performance selections.
There has been some controversy around the world about ISAF’s selection of events for the 2012 Olympic Games. ISAF was required by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to reduce sailing events from 11 to 10 for the Olympic sailing regatta to be held in Weymouth, England. This decision was made this month by ISAF’s Council at its meeting in Estoril, Portugal.
The decision is a blend of policy and politics. ISAF’s Events Committee considered issues such as national participation, media appeal, and reducing costs. It therefore recommended dropping both the men’s and women’s keelboat events. The ISAF Council however did not adopt this recommendation and voted it appears along political lines. Strong class associations lobbied, and nations may have followed their individual interests rather than the general interest of the sport.
The review by ISAF of its Olympic events arises from ongoing work by the IOC and ISAF to address IOC’s requirement for a reduction in the number of events and the numbers of athletes. A report by the Olympic Programme Commission reported as follows with respect to the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games:
'In comparison with other individual sports, the Commission noted the high quota and number of events in sailing, in comparison to the low broadcast and spectator appeal. In addition, the cost and complexity of the operations of the sailing competition were discussed, with the resulting challenges for general practice and development of the sport.'
'The Commission therefore recommends the reduction of the athlete quota and number of events in the sport of sailing for the Programme of the Games of the XXIX Olympiad.'
'It was noted that the Keelboat class are very expensive boats and demand costly infrastructure for Olympic competition, and for general practice and development in comparison to other classes. Therefore, if the Executive Board recommends the reduction in the number of athletes and events, the Commission believes these reductions could be made through the exclusion of keelboat sailing events from the Programme of the Games of the XXIX Olympiad, which would also reduce the construction and operational costs and complexity.'
Earlier this year Yachting New Zealand’s Board asked its Olympic Committee to make recommendations with respect to 2012 events. The recommendation by the Olympic Committee was based exclusively on our ability to win medals in 2012. The Olympic Committee considered that New Zealand’s weakest events were likely to be the multihull and the skiff. It also considered that match racing instead of fleet racing would better suit our keelboat sailors in 2012.
The Board largely supported the Olympic Committee’s review, but ruled that the skiff rather than the multihull be dropped, while supporting women’s match racing.
At the ISAF Council meeting, the women’s events selected were in line with YNZ’s aim. With respect to the men’s events, area representatives were required to vote for 6 events – more or fewer would be deemed invalid. It was apparent in advance of the formal vote that five events were secure, and that the two insecure events were the keelboat and the multihull.
Either of these would be eliminated. In order to retain the keelboat, our area representative did not support the multihull. It was clearly not in New Zealand’s interest in winning medals to lose the men’s keelboat, and that has been achieved. The multihull event has been part of New Zealand’s history of sailing success and it is disappointing to see it go from the Olympic Games.
The inherent risk to sailing’s continuing presence at the Olympic Games beyond 2012 is of course of concern, given the thinking of the IOC’s Olympic Programme Commission as reported above. This matter now needs to be seriously considered by all ISAF members beyond 2012. In the end, the appeal of our sport to international television audiences will have a very big impact on its future as part of the Olympic Games.