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2024 Olympics: Are Kiteboards legitimately part of World Sailing?

by 22 Apr 2018 23:13 PDT 23 April 2018
Flying High - Kiteboarding - March 22, 2016 © Richard Gladwell

Rules and America's Cup guru, Tom Ehman has penned an interesting commentary piece on

Ehman was Executive Director of what is now US Sailing at the age of 26 years and first got involved in the America's Cup in 1980 (as Jury Secretary), he has also been on several Olympic Regatta Juries, was an Int Judge and Umpire - leading much of the early work with the development of Umpiring - and was US representative to the then IYRU and served on various roles and working parties, including the Events Committee (where the 2024 Olympic Events slate is being formulated. He was a rules adviser and advocate for Star and Stripes in the 1988 New York Supreme Court Hearing on the Big Boat vs the Cat case, which hinged on the meaning of the word "Match" and in the 2007-2010 NYSC case for Golden Gate Yacht Club against Societe Nautique de Geneve - which revolved around the meaning of the word "having" (overturning a decision in 1996 by the America's Cup Arbitration Panel).

The parties he represented in 1988 and 2010, won both their cases.

In this commentary Ehman looks as the meaning of the word "sailing" in the context of the world body for sailing, and whether it was ultra vires in accepting the inclusion of kiteboarding/surfing under the World Sailing umbrella.

One of Ehman's strengths in both the 1988 and 2010 America's Cup cases was that given his sailing rules and various administration backgrounds he could apply a perspective of "sailing context" to the various legal arguments that were put up in the GGYC/SNG case particularly, which highlighted the impracticality of what was being advanced to the Court as apparently cogent legal opinions.

The GGYC/SNG cases was only really resolved after the NYSC put together an Expert Panel (of senior sailing judges) who by and large agreed with the GGYC positions on key points of the case.

Sail-World has obtained an informal legal opinion (from a lawyer also with a very strong America's Cup background, on the other side to Ehman - but who has not followed the Olympic Events debate). The opinion concludes that under English law, the sails are not so much the deciding issue but that a board is not a hull and on that basis both windsurfing and kiteboarding do not fall under the auspices of World Sailing without a constitutional change.

Tom Ehman writes on

By definition, kiting is not sailing; if kiting is to go Olympic, and it should, it must have its own federation

World Sailing is in the midst of deciding the 2024 Olympic classes for the ten medals currently allocated to Sailing by the IOC. You can call them "events" or "disciplines" or "equipment" (IOC technical terms) or classes; bottom line, WS is choosing the classes that will be sailed in 2024, and all involved know it.

The IOC calls our sport Olympic Sailing. It used to be called Olympic Yachting, but that changed in the 90s when many of the national governing bodies, primarily for egalitarian reasons, changed their names from yachting to sailing (US Yacht Racing Union became US Sailing; the Canadian Yachting Association – you had to love their abbreviation "CYA" – became Sail Canada, to name just two). In turn, the International Yacht Racing Union changed its name to International Sailing Federation, and more recently to World Sailing.

Kiting (kite-surfing, kite-boarding, foil-boarding, kite-foiling, snow-kiting, call it what you want) has at least one international federation. Currently linked with World Sailing is the International Kiteboarding Association. As you can see from their website (graphic below) they have three disciplines: Racing, Expression (acrobatics, judged like gymnastics and figure skating) and Snowkite. Within each of those disciplines are 4-5 divisions....

Before deciding what the ten sailing classes will be in 2024, World Sailing has to decide whether kiting should be allowed into the Olympics as a sailing event thereby taking up at least two of the only ten sailing medals.

There are lots of arguments, mostly commercial, on both sides of this question. However, there is one simple, strong argument for why kiting does not belong under World Sailing and, therefore, not in the Sailing Olympics.

If there were to be another AC Deed of Gift match (God forbid!), and someone showed up with a boat using a kite for propulsion, would that fulfill the Deed’s requirement for "a yacht or vessel propelled by sails only”?

As many of our readers will know, I was the rules advisor for what was then BMW Oracle Racing for the 2010 America's Cup. We considered whether a kite could be used with the BOR 90 (120ft LOA) trimaran. I strongly advised against it. Why?

Because the definition of “sail” in virtually all dictionaries and in practical usage is, "A piece of material extended on a mast to catch the wind and propel a boat, ship, or other vessel.”

On the other hand, various top dictionary's definition of a "kite" is, "A light frame covered with paper, cloth, or plastic, and designed to be flown in the air at the end of a long string." (S-W: There are other definitions, such as a light air sail; a bird of prey etc. and Collins dictionary gives 11 meanings of the word as a noun and verb)

Had our AC team flown a kite on the end of a long string we would have been laughed out of the New York State Supreme Court, and the trophy handed to SNG/Alinghi. A kite is not a sail. Ergo, kiting is not sailing – whether on a parking lot, snow or water, and regardless whether some water-borne kiting competitions use some of our sailing rules.

Moreover, the first sentence of the World Sailing Constitution says, "The objects and aims for which World Sailing, as the controlling authority of the sport of sailing in all its forms throughout the world, are….”

World Sailing is not the controlling authority for “kiting in all its forms” although it is trying, for purely commercial reasons (i.e., television; follow the money!), to control Olympic kiting and Olympic kiters/riders.

If World Sailing continues down this kiting path, it means taking away two medals from legit sailing classes. Many kiters also argue that they would be better off as a separate federation, especially those (and there are many) who do their kiting on dry land and snow, or on the water in the "expression" discipline for which World Sailing has no experience, no rules, no events, no judges, nada de nada.

[S-W/NZ: There is a second world body for Kiteboarding - not recognised by World Sailing - with several other interesting stories backgrounding these issues.]

Because it's not sailing, it's kiting.

In conclusion, Tom Ehman says he firmly believes kiting should be in the Summer Olympics, Winter Olympics, Paralympic Games, Extreme Games, Urban Games, you name it. Just not as what appears to be to the detriment, short and long-term, of both sailors and kiters.

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