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Andersen Interviewed: Council went past IOC on Gender Equality

by Richard Gladwell, Sail-World.com/nz 24 Oct 18:10 PDT 24 October 2018
World Sailing looks set to make a few more Olympic fleets redundant with seven of ten classes under review for the 2024 Olympics © Richard Gladwell

Sail-World.com's New Zealand Editor, Richard Gladwell, interviewed the President of World Sailing, Kim Andersen (DEN) covering a number of issues ahead of the world governing bodies Annual Conference starting this weekend.

This second part of the interview piece covers the International Olympic Committee's "dictates" which have been used to drive big changes in the 2024b Olympic Sailing event slate. To read Part 1 covering Anti-Trust and Olympic class Selection click here

Much of the discussion on the Olympic Sailing rialto since the Rio Olympics has centred around a couple of phrases said to have emanated from the International Olympic Committee.

In a letter to World sailing in October 2016, Kit McConnell, Sports Director of the IOC, made it plain "In regard to the Olympic sailing programme, we have been clear in previous communications and discussions that each IF [International Federation] retains its independence in considerations and making proposals on the Olympic event programme and athlete quotas.".

The first mantra was "Change or be Changed".

Attributed to the IOC that came out of the world sailing lobbies as being a portent that there needed to be significant changes in the sport and more particularly event formats.

After a few months, it emerged that what Lausanne really meant was that the television coverage of the events had to improve - not sailing specifically, but all sports.

The logic was obvious - more compelling TV coverages means bigger audiences which translates into bigger revenues for the IOC, and a bigger dividend for the sports (of which Sailing picked up USD$15.3million and is at the second lowest level of all Summer Olympic Sports).

After "Change or be Changed" had faded from the World Sailing lexicon, the next utterance from the IOC was "Gender Equality".

That phrase has a variety of permutations in the context of equal gender balance in numbers of sailors, medal events and opportunities.

In May 2018, World Sailing's Events Committee Working Party came up with its view of how Sailing should re-invent itself to accommodate "Change or be Changed" and "Gender Equality".

Unfortunately, the Director of Sport for the IOC, Kit McConnell had announced 11 months earlier that Sailing had already met the IOC's requirements for Gender Equality, and specifically mentioned that the Olympic body was comfortable with the number of events for men and women in Sailing not being equal.

The comments were made in an IOC Press Briefing given by McConnell on June 9, 2017.

Andersen's response (before listening to the video below) is that World Sailing's Council had made the decision to have Gender Equality in terms of numbers of sailors participating in the Olympic Regatta and that the number of Events/Medals should be equal for male and female sailors.

In other words, the World Sailing Council decided to exceed the IOC's Gender Equality requirements for the sport of Sailing.

Responding to McConnell's comments made later in the same IOC media Conference, Andersen said: "Gender Equality comes on Athletes and Events. We have had Gender on athlete Participation but not on Events."

In a direct reference to the IOC's Director of Sport's comment about an unequal number of Sailing Events being acceptable to the IOC, Andersen responded: "It is Sailing who should direct our sport, not the IOC. The point is that if you want to have a sport that is relevant for the future, many sports are trying to adopt true Gender Equality."

"On a personal level, I have been defending the view that we should not be trying to do Gender Equality on the Olympic level because we need to develop gender Equality from the Clubs and the grassroots."

"Three years ago one of my friends said to me: "You keep on saying that Kim, but to be honest nothing has happened in our Sport". You put in a boat here and there for Women, but it is not real. So maybe you have to look at the top [Olympic] level of your sport."

"If we want to do something and change the sport, we have to do something at an Olympic level, and that is what Council has agreed. That is also what I would support."

"I am very sure that if we can improve our gender balance, our sport will stay relevant.

"At the same time at an entry-level for the kids, it is important for them to see that this is a balanced sport. Otherwise, you cannot draw the audience you want to attract. I think we have so much to offer that they should all be Sailing!

Shift from one to four Mixed Events

The proposed Event slate for the 2024 Sailing Regatta shifts from one mixed event in Rio and Tokyo to four Mixed events in Marseille. Why such a big change?

"I don't think the question was why do we have four? The submission we approved in Mexico was that we should have a minimum of two and a maximum of four. I think the maximum was put in there so that we should change to have more Mixed in order to be more engaged with women sailors.

"Instead of having a Men's and Women's Kite which takes two positions, then let's make a new Olympic event which only takes one position."

The other question Andersen poses is whether the Olympic sailing events "should show the Diversity of our sport or should they show a small part linked to dinghies?"

"If we had equipment in there like the offshore program as a sponsor, we could activate an offshore program, but we cannot activate on a Finn or a 470 or a Laser. I am asking if we are missing some opportunities in sailing? I think we do have an opportunity with ten medals to show our sport in a different way, and also making a very strong program."

"Frankly speaking I cannot see why a good keelboat sailor should not have Keelboat class in the Olympics."

Andersen shares the view that despite the IOC's oft-quoted line of "change or be changed" that Sailing should not have any real concerns about being dropped as an Olympic Sport.

"I don't think Sailing is threatened in the Olympics as a sport", he says. "When I am talking to the IOC they think we are a good sport. We are not having doping issues; we are not having management issues; we are not having governance issues. So on that scale, we are doing well.

"We have some good Development programs. That is not to say we are safe and sound because the total number of athletes has been cut down from 400 to 380 to 350. And that is where adding medals is the least of our problems. It is easier to get more medals than it is to get more athlete [numbers]".

With more medals and smaller fleet numbers, Andersen believes the emphasis comes off tactical sailing and becomes an expensive search for small increments in speed.

New Event format adopted

A point of real contention in the 2024 Olympic event slate was the creation of events such as relays and combined scores in the single-handed dinghy and Kiteboarding events when these formats are not used at World Championship events?

"When we are having these changes the lobbying is so heavy that the logic that comes out of these debates is not that clear. I think we can do some of the events which we are dealing with now. But that is not to say that we couldn't do something different and maybe better."

The combined Sailing World Championships in Aarhus was expected to be a debut for Kiteboarding which attracted a field of 65 in the Men's event and just 11 from nine countries in the Female event. Given the squeeze on other Olympic events and overall numbers, many believe that Kiteboarding should not be part of the Sailing Olympics, and would be better to be staged at the Surfing venue as a separate sport.

"The kite was recognised by World Sailing in 2008, and they nearly came in for two events in the 2020 Olympics," Andersen says, running through the history of the new sport.

"Now many years later they are getting in as a Mixed event. I think the clear signal around the table is that the MNA's and Council want a Kite. This is what is now being applied now, and there are six years for the upcoming event, and I am sure you will see a big development there.

"I just came from the Youth Olympics at Buenos Aires to see the Boys and Girls competing there. They will be the ones we see competing in 2024. I think there is a strong youth development there. You are right about the numbers in Aarhus. But going forward, the Youth development is pretty clear in Kites."

Many sailors feel that the introduction of the Kiteboard, and novel events such relays and combined scores are a workaround to inflate the Diversity of the Olympic Sailing Regatta, and to artificially balance the Gender Equality math. Of further concern, the slate will not have a boat for men above 85kgs - unless the Finn is included.

This was acknowledged in the report of the Working Party in May 2018: "The WP recognises that there may be some athletes [sailors] at the extreme ends of the size range for the current Olympic events that could find they do not have a suitable option for 2024. The issue is particularly acute for men over 90kgs."

"I think it is important that there is Diversity," said Andersen responding to these points. "So let's see what the Council is doing there. It is something we need to look at. I don't see that the Finn is going to be thrown out. But let's see.

Point and Counterpoint

At this point the interview changed into a debate, which is best not paraphrased.

RG "The current male World Youth Singlehanded champion is aged just 16 years old weighs 79kg. He only has to put on another three or four kgs, and he will be too heavy for any class in the Olympics most likely by the time he is 18years old."

Andersen: "Look at it in a different way. Why is it the with the equipment chosen for the women they are now allowing lightweight women into our Games."

RG: "If you want to do that - then pick a boat that suits light women (55kg). Pick a class that they can sail. The classes that are in there now are covering quite a narrow weight band. While that does suit some sailors, it is clearly disenfranchising others."

Andersen: "We have a narrow weight band now on men and women, and that is an issue and is why I agree with you. This is why I tried to make a Proposal at the Mid-Year meeting. But that was voted down. If we were going to have a Mixed one person dinghy event that should maybe be a Finn and a Laser. But then, of course, that is costing on Universality."

"Then we should retain the single-handed classes for Men and Women for a Finn and lighter boat for Women. But that is now history, so that is not going to happen. So we don't need to discuss it.

RG: "Turning to the Combined scores for the Mixed Singlehander - a Male might be #3 in the world in the Laser and if the best female is down at #50 in the world - so he will say "what is the point of me doing an Olympic campaign if I can never win?"

Andersen: "That is one of the issues that need to be taken care of. I can see from the correspondence from many MNA's that are concerned that they are trying to work around now, so let's see what comes out of the November meeting. But I agree with you that it is an issue. When we look at the Kite events, it is a new event, and I am very sure they will put together a good program for 2024. But where we are trying to mix the Traditional sport in a Mixed event, that is a much bigger challenge, and I don't have the answers yet."

RG: "What is your view on the Dutch proposal to put in a foiling windsurfer?"

Andersen: "As I said, previously, I would like to see some changes on the Equipment side. So personally I don't think you need to go foiling to make our sport exciting or to broadcast it in an exciting way. So I don't see the reason for not keeping the windsurfer as it is [RS:X].

"I know there are windsurfer sailors who say that this board could be improved by all these things. But I think the most important thing and where we started the conversation was to get the gender equality right in order to stay relevant, and also make sure we can attract youth.

"The equipment at that point is not so important. That is why I would definitely prefer to see us using mostly existing equipment, and we only look at having equipment changes in two classes."

"Again it is not my call, but that is how I would like to guide the Council if I could - and which I am going to try."

In Part 3 we will cover the Paralympics, World Sailing's Financial situation; Part 4 covers Major Events, TV and media, and Conflict of Interest in World Sailing

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