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French lobby group credited with Offshore Keelboat win

by Richard Gladwell, 14 Nov 2018 04:53 PST 15 November 2018
Finn class, 2018 Sailing World Cup Final - Marseille, France © Richard Langdon / Sailing Energy

In an interview published in a French sailing website, the President of Fédération Française de Voile, the French national authority for Sailing, has revealed how a five-member team from FFVoile were able to have a Mixed Offshore event included in the 2024 Olympic Events in Marseille.

To recap, the Board of World Sailing, initiated a late and urgent Submission, just before the start of its Annual Conference in late October, stating that in its view the Mixed One-Person Dinghy event passed at the Mid-Year Meeting was not a viable Event.

This was despite its own Regulation 23 requiring it to select only events that "is, and will be likely to remain, the pinnacle Event for that discipline or area of sailing". By definition that would seem to preclude events that are not currently sailed. Quite why the Board allowed Events to be included in the selection process when five months later, the Board came to the conclusion: "After considerable thought into how this new event could work, the Board does not have confidence that it can be presented as an attractive and workable event."

Back in March, FFVoile had floated the idea of running a "Showcase" Offshore event using five Beneteau Figaro 3 foiling keelboats. The event would be sailed in conjunction with the World Sailing Cup Final in Marseille, on May 29.

FFVoile sought partners who were prepared to put in up to €150,000, or as a minimum for the event €40-50,000. In the end, the event didn't proceed.

At the Mid Year Meeting in May the Submission which contained an Offshore Keelboat event for the 2024 Olympics was not backed by World Sailing's Council, and the Mixed One-Person Dinghy event was chosen despite the requirements of Regulation 23.

Fast forward to the Annual Conference at the end of October at Sarasota, Florida, and the "Urgent Submission from the Board" emerged on October 27. In the place of the Mixed One Person Dinghy, a new event "Mixed Two Person Keelboat Offshore" was substituted.

While claiming to minimise changes in Equipment [Classes] from those used in the 2020 Olympic Regatta in Tokyo, the late Submission still had seven of the ten classes marked for possible change/review.

The way FFVoile President Nicolas Hénard tells it to Axel Capron in Tip & Shaft the unsuccessful submission for an Offshore Keelboat, proposed at the May meeting only missed selection by two votes [after a preferential run-off].

Hénard says the impetus for the Offshore submission came through lobbying.

" We had a very nice organisation, with a team of four or five people in Sarasota, including Corinne Migraine, the vice-president of the Federation competition-performance department, in charge of offshore racing," Hénard says in a translation from the French news item.

"With the other French people present - which I can not talk about - we worked very well on all aspects of lobbying: the voting of the voters, how to change their minds, how to explain the race to the sea ... We made a big, big, big job, helped by nations who had fully understood what the stakes were behind this vote, such as Australia, New Zealand, the United States, almost all of Asia. Paradoxically, the resistance came from "old nations" that defended the Finn or the 470, while the fight was already lost." [Area L - Australia, New Zealand, and the Pacific Islands also voted in May for Submission 18 which included the Mixed Offshore keelboat.]

Hénard claimed: "Germany was not with us, Spain and Italy were not safe ... Basically, all the great English-speaking sailing nations, all of Asia, all of North Africa supported us. They understood the stakes behind the vote for world sailing and did not hide behind lobby, class or community decisions."

While lobbying for preferred events has always been part of the political process at World Sailing, it would seem that the Finn class were ambushed by the surprise submission, while it clear from Hénard's comments that the overthrow of the One-Person Dinghy was well organised in advance of the Annual Conference.

Asian bloc ambivalent

Hénard's comments about Asian support were confirmed in a text exchange said to have emanated from a group of Asian nations working together, as is normal practice at World Sailing meetings;

The Asian delegates had a meeting today afternoon to discuss our strategy for Council Meeting tomorrow and the proposal of the WS Board.

The proposal was debated, and views of SGP, CHN, OMA, HKG, JPN, IND, UAE and KOR collated. After detailed discussions and in the best interest of Asia, the majority suggested that the Asian delegates should support the WS Board submission to replace Mixed One person dinghy with Mixed Two Person Keelboat offshore.

Reason: It will highly likely be that the Finn dinghy will be selected as the men's class for the Mixed One Person Dinghy if that event stays.

Considering between the Finn dinghy and the Keelboat, both decisions are inconsequential for Asian nations.

Therefore the decision was made to go with WS Board's submission.

CHN commented that it was important for councillors to push for WS to state a cap on the price of the Keelboat to ensure that the cost of equipment and therefore campaign will not inflate such that less well-off MNAs are not able to participate.

Further, the Asian delegates will strongly support the retention of Lasers, 470 and RSX for 2024.

Finn class President, Dr Balazs Hajdu told Sail-World that the first the Finn class became aware that an overthrow was underway "was last weekend [Oct 27] when the Board's Urgent Submissions were published."

He went on to claim that it was apparent that lobbying had been underway for several months, a claim that is now confirmed by FFvoile President Hénard.

"And then with a late filing [of the Late and Urgent Submission by the World Sailing Board] denied the Finn the chance of defence," Dr Hajdu added.

Hajdu says they thought the Finn was safe after reading World Sailing President, Kim Andersen's comments reported in Sail-World: "I think it is important that there is Diversity [of sailing events in the 2024 Olympic Regatta] 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."

Earlier in the interview, Andersen made several plays for the Keelboat's inclusion, consistent with his desire to see greater Diversity in the Olympic lineup for 2024: "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?"

The comments in the interview given on October 12, were backed by a statement issued three days later by the World Sailing CEO, Andy Hunt which read:

"There have been a number of suggestions that we should consider reversing the decisions that have been made on equipment this November, however, please note that decisions on equipment made outside of our normal processes risk putting World Sailing in breach of obligations under competition law.

"The way forward in dealing with this complex part of our sport in not by fighting a legal battle but working with our stakeholders within the regulations approved by council, to the benefit of MNA`s and sailors and maintain securing that decisions are made by the World Sailing Council."

It is now clear that statement was a smokescreen by World Sailing, designed to give comfort around the 2024 Olympic Events chosen by Council in May 2018, while the FFVolie was actively lobbying for the Offshore Keelboat event to be revived.

Clearly in a case of "Do as I say, Not as I do", the Board also ignored in instruction issued by its CEO - costing him credibility. The CEO was also placed in the untenable position of later being shown to have been undermined and used by as a stalking horse by his Board.

In the translated interview, Hénard, a double Olympic Gold medalist in the Tornado class, explained to Tip & Shaft that the lobbying campaign was necessary "to convince all the world's sailors of the incredible opportunity to bring offshore racing into the Olympic program.

"[If] We change the category including the offshore, we put a huge spotlight on Sailing in 2024. Marseille, it is the second city of France, specialised in sailing, the only sport which, in its totality, is not in Paris [the venue for most of the Olympic sports].

"The idea was to take advantage of this spotlight to include offshore racing in the Olympic program and make it the longest event in the history of the Olympic Games. In 2024, the broadcast will be live 24 hours a day on an event that will last three days and two nights, with the possibility of doing eSailing - the virtual regatta. The whole world will be able to follow the regatta in its time zone and will be able to even race alongside the competitors!"

What FFVoile President Hénard did not mention was that as Host Country, France automatically has an entry in the Mixed Offshore Keelboat event, and does not need to qualify as do all the other sailing nations.

France is the world's most successful nation in shorthanded offshore, and trans-oceanic sailing.

While trials will have to be held to select the new Offshore keelboat, there is a high chance that it will be an offering from the Beneteau stable, which has five production facilities in France.

That decision should make training and selection a lot easier for French Olympic aspirants in the Offshore Keelboat event.

Finally, if the French need any further advantage, the Offshore event will be sailed in the home waters of the French sailing nation.

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