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Gladwell's Line: Olympic riddle is half solved

by Richard Gladwell, Sail-World.com/nz 15 May 06:59 PDT 16 May 2018
Finn class start in Medal race in Rio © Richard Gladwell

After building over the past six months, the 2024 Olympic Sailing events selection was at least partially resolved with the RS:X, Finn and 470 being retained for Paris 2024 albeit it under different guises in the case of the latter two classes.

There's a place too for the kiteboards - but for how long is another question.

Five other classes were excluded from the Review - the 49er, 49erFX, Nacra 17, Laser and Laser Radial and complete the fleet for Paris 2024, for which the sailing regatta will be held in Marseille. The latter two are still subject to a review for compliance with European Union anti-trust regulation.

The so called developed sailing countries are less affected by the Olympic class decisions because of the other options going for sailing - the America's Cup, Volvo Ocean Race and other professional sailing opportunities. Some also have excellent and relatively low cost transition programs for mid-teenage sailors.

After last night's World Sailing Council vote, there has been little change in the Olympic classes. They have essentially remained - some just with different names.

The Finn has now changed from the Heavyweight Mens Singlehander to the Mixed One Person Dinghy.

Quite what that means remains to be seen.

Back in the day when the Laser was invited into the Olympics it took the title of the Mens Singlehander from the Finn, which became the Open Dinghy - on the basis that it could be sailed by Men or Women.

There have been some zany event formats proposed. Lifting the TV viewership ratings will not be achieved by some new course gimmick. The Olympic coverage has fallen behind the media benchmark set by the America's Cup and Volvo Ocean Race.

The much touted re-shaping of the sport has not happened. Apparently.

The media statement released by World Sailing announcing the success of the Romanian submission claimed:

"New Event, Mixed One Person Dinghy - New equipment must be selected" "New Event, Mixed Two-Person Dinghy - New Equipment must be selected" "New Event, Mixed Kite - New Equipment must be selected."

New equipment is chosen following equipment trials. Submissions for the 2018 Annual Conference must summarise the main criteria to be used in selecting any new equipment"

Those leaving the meeting, and spoken to by Sail-World were very clear that existing equipment (Finn and 470) would be retained in the first two events.

On Tuesday morning the Finn Association issued a statement making it very clear that they expected the Finn to be retained sensing that World Sailing was attempting to bend the clear intention of the successful Submission to fits its policies and regulations.

Although no statement was issued by the 470 class it is clear from the World Sailing statement that the class which had previously been the Mens and Womens Twohander, would also have have equipment trial as a new Mixed event had been created.

The only mention made of new equipment in the Romanian submission for the first two new Events was that the Finn would be used along with the 470.

The format of the Mixed One Person Dinghy was that two one person dinghies would be used with the Finn being used for the 90kg plus Men and a new class selected suitable for the 70kg plus women. Although the submission talked of a "Mixed Team Event" - it did not elaborate, and again appeared to be moving into the territory of a combined scores event - which is completely new to sailing, has no recognised world championship within the sport and is therefore contrary to IOC criteria.

World Sailing's administrators have shown that they have become detached from the mainstream of the sport.

Getting a 20,000 signature petition against you in just two weeks is quite a feat.

Equally impressive is the achievement of having an open letter published against you in Seahorse, an authoritative international sailing magazine - signed by six Olympic medallists and the most successful coach in Olympic sailing history. Some will try and marginalise the letter as just being a note signed by seven sailors.

The real downside risk for those sailors is that if they get offside with their national authority and get labelled as "troublemakers", they put their Olympic funding at risk, and eventual Olympic selection too. It's not an action they would have taken lightly. The truth is that there are probably hundreds that would have gladly joined them.

World Sailing has also managed to get itself offside with most of the sailing world's online media - not just for their actions which seem to be in response to an undeclared agenda, but also with their lack of transparency.

The latest example of which is their refusal to allow live video/broadcast of the two days of Council meetings. They were able to do this for the November 2017 meeting. It was useful and enabled those outside the World Sailing bubble to at least see what is going down, and maybe understand. The technology involved in a live broadcast is within the capacity of an IT-savvy ten-year-old.

These were decisions being made which affected tens of thousands of sailing careers. Right from a 12year old sailing Optimists, as to what his/her pathway should be; to those in the mix for Tokyo2020 and aiming for Paris2024, and those who are in serious contention for Tokyo2020 but also have an eye on Paris2024 and beyond.

Potentially World Sailing could have obsoleted half the world Olympic fleet. That is a very serious debate. Why shouldn't the people (and their parents/sponsors) be able to hear those discussions live or in replay if they were on the other side of the world, get the full story, and make their own decisions?

Part of the issue is the conflict of interest within World Sailing. There are too many influencing the sport from the inside who are paid by external sailing bodies - either as employees or contractors – and are also holding elected positions within the world body.

For pro administrators, it is great - their sphere of influence is extended. Collectively it just encourages politics and power-broking. It doesn’t improve the quality of a debate when people are ducking in an out of a meeting/discussion because their employer is an interested party. That’s if they leave the room at all instead staying and exerting some influence on the discussion and then just abstain in a secret vote.

The flip side is that the organisation's regulations are riddled with references as to how a conflict of interest should be handled. The simple bright-line test is that if you are on the payroll of a member national authority or class association, then you should be barred from holding elected office. Simple. The rest of it is relatively minor and infrequent.

World Sailing also has a media problem.

Firstly in its coverage of the Olympic regatta which did not really change from 2012 to 2016. The Events Committee of World Sailing seems to think the solution is to change the classes. How about working out how to shoot live video on the ocean courses rather than restricting coverage to a land-locked polluted bay? We now know that the IOC looks to the sports federations for guidance as to how their sport can be best covered.

The backdrops in Rio may have been spectacular, but the fans had tuned in to see the Olympic sailing stars at their best, and with coverage that told a story. Many fans felt short-changed.

Then there's World Sailing's relationship with the sailing media - exemplified above.

Over the next few months there’s more to come on these and other issues. Clearly the peasants are in revolt.

The signal that World Sailing has been sent over the past couple of weeks is that substantial change in the Olympic regatta is not required.

Whether the message has been taken on board is another matter entirely.

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