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Andersen Interviewed: Conflict of Interest, Television, World Cup

by Richard Gladwell, Sail-World.com/nz 29 Oct 06:19 PDT 30 October 2018
Ben Ainslie - 2012 Olympic Regatta with large on board camera for Medal Race in the Finn Class © 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 just started world governing body's Annual Conference

This final and fourth part of the interview piece covers the Sailing World Cup, Conflict of Interest within World Sailing, and Olympic Television.

To read Part 1 covering Anti-Trust and Olympic class Selection click here; and for Part 2 on the Gender Equality and the 2024 Olympic Events click here Part 3 on the World Sailing's Financial Situation and the Paralympics click here

Following the 2008 Olympics, the "ISAF Olympic Commission" was established by the Executive Committee of the then International Sailing Federation (ISAF) to undertake a comprehensive review of all aspects of Olympic sailing.

It was done against a backdrop widespread concern that Sailing was close to being dropped as an Olympic Sport with the now familiar accompanying cacophony - mainly from those attempting to gain leverage from the situation by promoting a variety of self-serving solutions.

Led by then Yachting Australia CEO, Phil Jones, the report was delivered in an Interim Report in May 2010 and then a Final version in November 2010.

Expected to attract widespread debate, the then International Sailing Federation President Goran Petersson is said to have asked his Executive Committee: "Does anyone disagree with the report?" There was silence around the meeting table, and the sixty page plus document was adopted in a matter of minutes. Its information and analysis were hard to dispute.

Intended as a Sailing "roadmap" for the next two Olympic cycles, parts have been adopted, while others were left to one side, but of course, do not go away.

A vital aspect of the Olympic Commission report was that the then International Sailing Federation (ISAF, now World Sailing), had no properties. The report identified one significant property which could be developed - the Sailing World Cup. The multi-regatta circuit for the Olympic classes has never really gelled and has it's had a new iteration for almost every year of its existence.

Eight years on from the Olympic Commission Report, what properties does World Sailing have that aren't also cost centres like the Youth Worlds?

"Now you are getting into the middle of one of the big issues," replies World Sailing President Kim Andersen who is two years into his first term.

"Where is a property to which we can actually attribute income? At the Annual Conference, for instance, for many years you paid a relatively low fee to host the Annual Conference. Now you are paying a much bigger fee. Then we get MNA's complaining that they cannot afford to host an Annual Conference any more - because it goes to cities where they have more money.

"The Combined Class Worlds, which we have just had at Aarhus, are also properties we can develop. We need to find out how to do these things in better ways."

"In some countries, we are working with just the MNA (Member National Authority) and sometimes the Cities and MNA's. In Aarhus, we had 1500 sailors and 86 countries and 400,000 visitors coming during the week - and that is not something that an MNA can deal with - and I don't think there are too many MNA's that could."

"We need to identify the properties and how to get the value out in a different way", he notes.

"We have been criticised for spending so much on media. You don't just have to criticise me because I think ISAF/World Sailing for the last 16 years or longer have been totally missing the opportunity with new media."

Andersen makes the point that much of the technology that is being trotted out now in a different form has been around for years and that while World Sailing has done the initial adoption, it has not really invested.

"When I was sitting in the Events Committee, 17 years ago, we had presentations telling that we could access a mobile phone to tell us who was coming around a mark first."

"The way we are doing the Olympic broadcast", he continues, "it is showing nice pictures, it is showing nice sails, but it is not showing the athletes. We are not even promoting the athletes."

"This is what we are doing with the graphics and SAP," pointing to the application which was a significant feature at the combined Olympic class Worlds in Aarhus. " We are trying to bring sailing to a greater audience and also for people to understand our sport."

"During the whole week of the sailing in Aarhus, the Sailing was in the top ten programs that were viewed in Denmark. This tells us that we have a lot of opportunities. On my last flight into Dubai on Emirates, I could view a video of the last Sailing World Cup Miami on the plane."

"In many other sports you know your website figures off by heart, and you go out and sell that to sponsors. We are not good at doing that.

"Maybe that is some education we have to look into, but I think we have a lot of potential here, and that has been proven over the last three years that it can happen."

Outwardly the combined Olympic classes World Championships were a big success - but did they put money into the bank for World Sailing?

"We are waiting to see the final outcome of that" replies Andersen. "We have agreed with all the stakeholders that we will open all the accounts so that we can see what money went where. At this stage, I don't know how that was reported in our event accounting structure along with all the World Cups. I need to check that."

Conflict of Interest Since almost the beginning of time, Olympic Event and Class or Equipment selection has been a process that is dominated by lobbying and sailing politics driven mainly by self-interest. Back in the 70's and 80's the Class Associations were all run by volunteers, and the boats were built by then IYRU licenced builders in a free-market environment.

With the advent of the Laser, Hobie and Windsurfer commercial money came into the equation, followed by salaried class association officials and MNA staffers.

A search of World Sailing's Register of Interests [ World Sailing Register of Interests ] shows that several of the 17 members of the Events Committee are employed by the national sailing federation, class associations and similar. That is only a few shy of the majority for the Committee. The Events Committee is an expert committee which advises on Olympic class and Event selection amongst other responsibilities

To many looking at World sailing there is a perception of conflict of interest at a Committee level.

"If you don't have any interest then you won't have any conflict," is Andersen's initial response. "Conflict of Interest is a given thing in this kind of organisation and structure. You have to deal with it as you go along because the people who are sitting in the Committee might not be the right people. Some of the people sitting the have special competencies and that World Sailing should be benefitting from that. It comes down to how different Committees should be selected and appointed - and that is something we should have a look at."

"A conflict of interest is not always how you are doing, but it is how other people are looking at you," he adds.

"When you are in a Committee you are working for World Sailing and not representing your MNA."

"In my personal opinion, you should not be sitting on a Committee if you are also representing your country on Council. You might be doing the right thing, and I have no reason to believe that people are not doing the right thing. But that is the way it is judged from the outside, and that is causing a question mark from the stakeholders in the sport."

"The definition of the role when you sit on a committee and when you sit on council should be very black and white - and that is not the case today."

Andersen implies that he expects to see many of the issues with Governance put on the table at the upcoming Annual Conference in Sarasota, Fl, USA.

"It will be the first time that the Governance Commission is reporting on how we could change the structure. The present structure has many problems concerning transparency, concerning the decision-making process and things like that.

"For instance, at this Annual Conference, we have a bunch of submissions that were thrown in on August 1, and we only have until late October to discuss and consider them. Why not have a process where these are coming in as a flow where anyone can put in a submission at any time and then it gets judged by the right people in a structured process. And then it comes up for voting?"

"To come back to your question, if you are serving a Committee then you are serving World Sailing if you are sitting the Council, then you are serving the MNA's. That line needs to be black and white, and that is not the case according to our regulations, today."

Olympic television coverage to get a shakeup?

The television coverage of the Olympic Sailing Regatta is often compared with the Volvo Ocean Race and America’s Cup.

Both the latter events have substantial media budgets and strategies and technology innovations, but Olympic Regatta seems to be unable to even pick up some of the hand-me-downs from the other two high profile, and longer duration, events,

In Rio, the Atlantic Ocean courses received no live TV coverage at all and fans missed seeing some of the most spectacular ever seen at an Olympic Regatta, and in particular, missed seeing crews battling the elements as much as their fellow sailors. With the Olympic Games generally being challenged by extreme sports it was a massive opportunity lost to the detriment of both the Olympics and the sport.

What happened at the Sailing World Championships in Aarhus was a considerable step up in the standard of TV coverage - and across all elements. Drones were used for the first time in Volvo OR style coverage. The technical analysis was fast, relevant and simple. The image quality was much improved. The Director and production team had a good feel for the sport and made the coverage tell a story using sailing images. To underline the lift in standard, the production was able to sustain interest for a full day's schedule - which at times stretched to over seven hours duration.

"World Sailing has never sat down and said: "this is how we are going to use the media. This is how we are broadcasting. This is how we are showing our races when we are racing. This is how we are emphasising on the sailor. What talents - is he/she strong upwind or downwind", Andersen responds.

"We have to do more than tell the fans that he/she is a Finn or Laser Radial sailor", says Andersen, "that is of no interest to most people. That is why I think we have been doing a very lousy job of staging and standardising how we are doing broadcasting. This is what we are addressing right now."

"Last year we engaged several times with the Olympic channel and also with OBS. They have seen now what we have done with SAP - and the graphics we are doing which they love. In turn, they have put us in touch with Swiss timing which is now liaising with SAP to see how they can not only use the graphics for sailing, but also the way this system, is running for other sports.

"I am just saying that for many, many years sailing has been asleep in stating and standardising the broadcast. Previously, two years out from the start of an Olympics, OBS would come with huge cameras and a battery pack weight more than 2kgs, and they would put it onto our boats because we had no other things to show them."

"Swiss Timing and OBS want to show the sport as it is shown normally, but because we don't have any standard they just do what they are capable of doing.

"This is what we are trying to change. I cannot guarantee you this but we are in very close contact with OBS and Swiss timing, and they like what they are seeing and are engaging. So I am very sure that at the Tokyo Olympics the way we will stage the sport will be the same way as you see it in the World Cup leading up to the Olympics.

Refreshingly, Andersen doesn't repeat the mantra so often heard at World Sailing Meetings and preliminaries, where various players with no media experience try and spin the line that the poor TV solution is in selecting classes and changing events to be "more media-friendly".

"First of all we have to get the coverage to the stage where we are now", Andersen continues. "We need to be showing the basics of the sport, not just the nice pictures, and last but not least we should not be talking only about an athlete and class, we should be able to tell the audience if Ben Ainslie really is the best person on the starting line? Is he good upwind in strong wind or light wind?

"That should be in future what defines a sailor not just that he/she is in a particular class and has won an Olympic Gold medal."

"I am just seeing now with the drones that we are on a different planet than what we had before with their short battery life and so on.

"I am very confident that the whole set up in Tokyo 2020 will be very different when we are coming to review what we have seen before.

"That will be mainly through our own engagement, instead of sitting waiting for someone else to it."

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