The Olympic Regatta is all over bar the shouting, and there weren't any medals for Asia, except Xu Lijia's gold in the Laser Radial. A couple of days ago we commented on the lack of Asian performance in a sport that has previously been touted as appropriate for ‘the Asian physique' and we received some feedback – which is good because it means someone is reading this! The consensus of opinion is as follows:
1. Among the Asian nations sailing is not taken seriously as an elite sport. (Unlike things like table tennis, which we always thought of a something for a wet Saturday afternoon at the local Youth Club). The ‘raw material' may be there, but sailing has yet to gain traction as a culture or a pathway to a sporting career. 2. Many sailing teenagers do not move forward to adult sailing success as they move overseas to study and work. 3. Those with money and enthusiasm move from small boats to big boats – think of the first class big boat regattas in Asia. 4. Lack of government funding makes it especially hard for promising athletes to stay in the sporting system. In Hong Kong, one writer commented that ‘outside the main sailing/yacht clubs, there are almost zero incentives or facilities to reach higher levels. Government Sailing Centres seem to be focused entirely on numbers. They simply don't run top level squads, spending most of the time teaching beginners. They operate more like ‘leisure centres' in the UK than sports training and development facilities.'
Four years ago we asked Bob Fisher, one of the most respected commentators on the world sailing scene, what it was that had propelled Great Britain to the top of the table over recent years. He said, ‘Simple: they got rid of the Blazer Brigade,' meaning that the selection and training of athletes, and the administration of the national sailing programme had been taken away from those in positions of control more by virtue of their longevity or social standing than by their effectiveness – and placed firmly in the hands of people who knew what they were doing. Managers, coaches, trainers, all with their eyes firmly on the programme rather than the next dress-up dinner.
Having attended a number of occasions in Asia where the sartorial elegance of the officials substantially outshone the organisational level of the regatta, we can think of a couple of Asian nations that would do well to take heed.
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