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Zhik 2024 March - LEADERBOARD

2024 Olympic Events selection - Vote and Hope?

by Richard Gladwell, 20 Nov 2018 18:27 PST 21 November 2018
Much of the ocean action sought in the Offshore Keelboat could be captured within the current Olympic Regatta by just taking video cameras onto the offshore courses - 470's racing on Rio 2016 Day 4 in the Atlantic Ocean © Richard Gladwell

The 2024 Olympic decisions taken by World Sailing over the past six months have been greeted with a mix of angst, derision and elation.

In May 2018, after World Sailing's Mid Year meeting, many fans and sailors were bewildered by decisions made by the world body which increased the number of Mixed sailing events from one to four, along with the adoption of several untried event formats for the 2024 Sailing Olympics.

At the end of October, rather than using the Annual Conference in Sarasota to take the rough edges off the Mid-Year Meeting decisions, the Board of World Sailing upped the ante with a late and urgent Submission.

We're advised that the said "Late and Urgent Submission" was approved at a Board Meeting held after the Annual Conference had started.

During the five months after being selected at the Mid Year Meeting in May, World Sailing, its member National Authorities, Committees and Board came to the realisation that the untried Mixed One-Person Dinghy format wasn’t viable.

The effect of the Board’s proposal to rectify that botch-up effectively dropped the Finn which had been the epitome of Olympic sailing for almost 70 years. The Board's Submission advocated installing a Mixed Two-Person Offshore Keelboat event in place of the Finn's domain - the Heavyweight Mens One-Person Dinghy.

That late Submission sparked a reaction on social media from International Olympic Committee Executive Board member Ng Ser Miang, formerly a Vice President of World Sailing.

"Now, barely five months later the World Sailing Board decided that one of the events cannot work and is proposing to change that. What sort of process is this? Lack of leadership? Cherry picking? Commercial interests manipulation?" he opined on his Facebook page

[For the full post click here]

In his longish post, Ng went on to cite five reasons why the Mixed Offshore Event was, in his view, not suitable as an Event for the 2024 Olympic Sailing Regatta, in Marseille, France.

Despite his comments, in the days following at World Sailing’s Annual Conference in Sarasota, Florida, the Mixed Offshore Keelboat submission was passed by the 17 member Events Committee by just a single vote margin, with two abstentions.

At the subsequent Council Meeting, the vote on the first Proposal from the Board to “agree to consider changing the Mixed One Person Dinghy event for the 2024 Olympic Sailing Competition” [selected in May] achieved a 79% majority (75% required of the 41 Council members entitled to vote). The second Proposal to include the new Mixed Two Person Keelboat Offshore was approved with a majority decision. The actual voting numbers are yet to be released.

Two days later, delegates at the Annual General Meeting ratified the Council decision with 43 voting in favour and 17 against. [At the AGM, each National Authority that attends has a single vote.]

The outcomes were the result of a major international lobbying effort engineered by the 2024 Olympic Host, Fédération Française de Voile and other groups of national authorities. For the earlier story click here

Several Board members spoke in favour of the Board’s Submission which was issued against the backdrop of an email from the World Sailing CEO dated October 15 and sent to the National Authorities and Class Associations, saying the world body could face anti-trust legal action if the Events slate chosen at the Mid-Year Meeting in May reverted back to the Tokyo 2020 Events and Equipment.”.

"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,” said CEO Andy Hunt in his email of Oct 15.

"The way forward in dealing with this complex part of our sport is 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," he added.

As was obvious from the day it was passed, the combined score Mixed One-Person Dinghy was seriously flawed. It should never have even been allowed into the Events mix as it is inconsistent with World Sailing's Regulation 23 covering Event Selection which says: "World Sailing shall seek to ensure that each Event at the Olympic Sailing Competition is, and will be likely to remain, the pinnacle Event for that discipline or area of sailing."

Arguably the very point of that phrase in the Regulation was to stop World Sailing doing what it did.

Speakers at the Council meeting suggested that the May Council meeting had approved the Mixed One Person Dinghy event “on the basis of a principle, rather than fully fleshed out, costed proposals” and that the Council was being asked to vote on principle again with the Mixed Two Person Offshore Keelboat.

With both Proposals, it was not addressed/explained as to how an Event that is not even contested at the time of its selection, and exists “in Principle” only, let alone being the "Pinnacle Event", can proceed to a vote as a future Olympic event.

The Athlete's Commission (a Board subcommittee) admitted that they had voted for the Mixed One Person Dinghy event in May and had now changed their collective minds and were backing the Mixed Offshore Keelboat.

The Mixed Keelboat event had been part of an unsuccessful Submission at the World Sailing's Mid Year Meeting in May 2018, losing in the final round of preferential voting by a margin of three votes. The Board dusted off the basics of this Submission and gave it a second run in the Annual Conference, where it was carried by a substantial majority. At the time of going to publication, the voting details were not available, and it was not possible to determine which Council members, other than the Athletes' Commission had switched their vote from the Mixed One Person Dinghy to the Mixed Two person Offshore Keelboat.

Sorry (big) Guys

It would seem that commercial considerations had some bearing on the decision to exit the Mixed One Person Dinghy and opt for the Mixed Two Person Offshore Keelboat.

During the course of a lengthy interview prior to the Annual Conference, World Sailing President Kim Andersen told Sail-World: “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 don't know. 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.”

Those views were also expressed by the Chair of the Events Committee, addressing the Council before the vote, and recommending that the Council approve Submission 037-18: “The Events and Equipment Committees Working Party in preparation for the May Meeting recognised the commercial potential and benefit for sailing that an Offshore Mixed Keelboat event offers.”

Secondly, even back in May 2018, World Sailing Events Committee admitted in a Working Party report that the recommendations made discriminated against slightly larger than average males: "The WP recognises that there may be some athletes 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. This issue is particularly acute for men over 90kgs."

Physical data captured at the 2018 Sailing World Championships for the combined Olympic classes at Aarhus in August 2018 showed that the top end weight for all the existing classes, except the Finn, in which men could compete was realistically 83-85kgs.

Of the 49er crews weighed at Aarhus, only eight of a total of 43 weighed more than 83kgs. The Finn sailors weighed at Aarhus averaged 96.7kgs. Only six out of 75 Finn sailors weighed less than 90kg.

Underscoring the issue is the fact that the current single-handed world Youth Champion at the age of 16 yrs and 79kgs is only 4kg shy of breaking through the effective upper weight limit for Olympic classes.

The average weight of the six crew in an AC50 for the last America’s Cup was 87.5kgs. The minimum average weight for the 2021 America’s Cup is 87.25 and maximum 90kg.

With the Volvo Ocean Race, having concluded just four months previously, it was easy to sell the vision of putting an offshore keelboat into the Olympics. But even just a glance through the detail checklist for such an event made it clear that the proposal was just as unworkable, in the context of an Olympic Regatta, as was the Mixed One-Person Dinghy event it replaced.

Also overlooked was the fact World Sailing's graveyard is littered with the tombstones of keelboat classes that have been in and out of the Sailing Olympics. Sadly their Olympic class lifespans are getting shorter, with the Tempest and Yngling lasting just two Olympic cycles, and the Elliott 6 metre surviving only one.

Against that backdrop, one would have expected World Sailing to have proceeded cautiously and done its homework, thoroughly.

Sadly that does not appear to have been the case.

The visionaries have it that the crowds in Marseille will flock to see the start and finish of an offshore race in the same numbers they do in Lorient, St Malo or Les Sables-d'Olonne. But those trans-Atlantic or around the world races always have a solid French presence - and the main question on the finish line is which French sailor will win? Or, are we seeing the next French sailing hero in a lineage started by Eric Tabarly?

The single-handed Vendee Globe has only ever been won by a French sailor. The front-runners in the Ultime class in the just concluded Route du Rhum, a major singlehanded race across the Atlantic are all French entries. France dominates the Jules Verne Trophy for the fastest circumnavigation – and similarly in solo laps of the planet.

Whether it is possible to give a 30fter the media capability of a Volvo 65 for just a 60hour race is no mere technology bagatelle.

The Mixed Two-Person Offshore race is touted as the first Olympic event to be broadcast 24 hours a day. But watching yachts racing in on a dark night on a tracker screen is not an exhilarating experience - even when it is the tail end of a Volvo OR leg finish, and the boats are ripping along at 25kts, instead of the 7-10kts of the proposed Olympic 30fters in a good breeze.

Whether the IOC is comfortable with Equipment costing in excess of €100,000, fitted with an engine, and bristling with media kit and electronics, is a question for another time and place.

World Sailing appears to have gone further than the International Olympic Committee’s requirements on Gender Equality, based on comments made by the IOC's Sports Director Kit McConnell, during a media conference in June 2017.

Sail-World approached the International Olympic Committee to ascertain their view of Gender Equality in Olympic Sailing.

“The press release last year regarding the gender equality achieved in Sailing for Tokyo 2020 referenced the overall athlete quotas of men and women for the Sailing competition, which had become balanced for the first time in recent history and mirrored work being done by federations across the sport programme to push for gender equality," Kit McConnell told Sail-World in a written statement.

"Efforts made recently by World Sailing through their Council, Board and AGM to address this gender imbalance in their Olympic event programme have been welcomed by the IOC as a necessary part of the dialogue that must take place by all sports around this important topic."

"As you know the Programme Commission will review all technical elements of an IF’s [International Federation's] proposal and makes recommendations to the IOC Executive Board a process which will take place in late 2020," he added

Whenever the topic of Gender Equality in the Olympics is discussed the obvious exceptions are always raised - on the basis that maybe two wrongs do make a right.

For instance, Aquatics has two more female events than male; Baseball is male only; Boxing has three more male events than female, and Greco Roman Wrestling has six divisions for men and none for female athletes.

Sail-World asked the IOC Sports Director as to how are these exceptions going to be handled in Paris2024? Is there a zero-tolerance on exceptions for Gender Equality, or are exceptions being negotiated on a Sport by Sport basis, as indicated by the IOC in June 2017?

If the latter then why could not an exception have been negotiated for the Heavyweight Mens One-Person Dinghy (Finn)?

"The number of events for Sailing still remain imbalanced with more men’s events than women’s events, a point which had been raised previously with the World Sailing leadership," Kit McConnell responded.

"Indeed, the IOC’s approach is to always push both for full gender equality across the Games and also increased gender equality within a sport, but also to ensure that within the sports that there are clear sporting reasons if gender equality cannot be achieved," he explained.

"We take those discussions directly with each Federation and attempt to understand through whatever data is available on costs, development, organisation of the event, popularity, ticketing, etc. that the event aligns with the IF’s long-term planning."

"The question occurred around the Finn not only due to the need for additional gender equality in the overall event programme, but also around World Sailing’s wish to have a weighted class of boat, which is one of the only two sports outside of the traditional combat sports at the Olympic Games (the other being Rowing) where there is a weighted designation. As always in these discussions, the IOC will be clear on our priorities and considerations, and consult with a Federation around the improvement of the sport.

“It is up to the IF to consider these points and to guide and lead the discussion within their respective sporting communities around the future and make recommendations to the IOC for consideration," Kit McConnell said in conclusion.

Cuts in Olympic fleet sizes

Assuming that athlete numbers remain capped in 2024 at the Tokyo level of 350, (a drop from the 380 of Rio) then some drastic cutting of Olympic events fleets will be required from those seen in Rio 2016.

The first round of these cuts takes effect in 2020, with both the reduced total fleet size dropping from 380 in Rio to 350 in Tokyo. The effect is further distortion as to cope with the equal participation requirement, coupled with the Finn remaining as a Mens event. That means there are more female entries proportionately across four Events (Windsurfer, Single hander, Two-handed and Skiff) with numbers staying flat in the Mixed Multihull at 20 boats or 40 Men and Women total.

As well as bringing in three new Mixed crew events - in addition to the Mixed Multihull which made its debut in Rio - the Gender Equality requirements have a double-whammy effect in that in 2024 Mens and Womens fleets have to be the same size numerically. Previously in Rio 2016, the smaller women's Olympic fleets reflected the reduced numbers of women participating in Sailing. For 2020 there is the aberration that Womens numbers are high for instance 2020 Laser Radial Singlehander has 44 Womens spots, which will drop to 30 in 2024. That sets the scene for further reductions in competitor numbers for Sailing, if those high number of womens positions are not taken up due to various "must be medal capable" selection criteria. The same issue happened on the back of the Rio Olympics when of the 380 places open to Sailing, 30 (mostly women) were not taken up by the first nation to qualify for that spot. To the surprise of no-one Sailing's total entry was chopped by 30 places for 2020. So expect more of the same for 2024.

Assuming there is no further cut in numbers for the Sport below 350, those three factors - reduced overall numbers from Rio; greater event pressure due to the excessive preference for Mixed Events; and equal numbers of male and female competitors in each Event fleet will likely see the Mens Laser fleet, for example, reduced from 46 in Rio to just 30 in Marseille.

The Women's Laser Radial fleet also drops from 37 in 2016 to 44 in 2020, to 30 in 2024 for the same reasons. It will also be hard for World Sailing to take away regional qualification places - of which there were 12 or so in 2016 in the Mens Laser.

It is possible to adjust the numbers eg drop the Mixed Two-Person Dinghy (470) to just 20 boats and allocate those places to the Mens and Womens Singlehander (Laser) which lifts the mens and womens Laser fleets to 35 each but that is still a fleet reduction of 11 and 2 places respectively from Rio 2016 levels.

Staying with the Laser fleet at 30 boats, there are just 18 places left for Qualification through World Championships. There were 24 nations who made the cut for the Rio Olympics in the first round of Qualification at the 2014 combined class World Championships in Santander.

A further nine gained an Olympic qualification in the 2015 Worlds.

If the two-step Olympic Qualification process is retained, as few as 12 nations could gain Olympic selection in the 2022 Combined class World Championships, and another six at the 2023 Class Worlds. Otherwise, it could be sudden death qualification only in 2022.

Quite how the selection will be made for the Mixed Offshore Keelboat is another matter again. The fleet size is likely to be 12-15 boats.

Between the Olympic Regattas Events, class fleet numbers can be fiddled and tweaked. But an increase in one event means a reduction in another, and there are certain limits below which fleet sizes can be dropped without making a mockery of the event.

French a shoo-in for the Offshore Gold medal?

The French are smiling.

As Host Nation they are already granted an automatic place in each Olympic Sailing Event - so they avoid the pressure of having to Qualify.

In Short Handed Offshore sailing Le Français have a Olympic event where they are without peer in the world.

Of course, the French crew in the proposed Mixed Offshore keelboat event will be sailing in their home waters.

The French Selection Trials – should be a very keenly fought event - maybe even surpassing the Olympic Regatta for local interest.

The argument that would-be Finn sailors can shift across to the Mixed Offshore Keelboat doesn't really fly either.

The Mixed Keelboat will require a new breed of Olympic sailor – some would see this as a tick in the Diversity box for the Olympic Sport of Sailing. Others see it as a break in the Optimist to Olympics class progression, which has taken years of careful adjustment to put in place.

The skills required in the Mixed Keelboat include seamanship, navigation, short-handed offshore racing techniques, night sailing, endurance sailing, ability to function safely when sleep-deprived and a few more besides, plus the usual sailing skills. Few of these specialist offshore skills can be coached - they take thousands of sea miles to develop.

Another consideration is that the well-established progression path will be broken from Youth Worlds in the Laser Radial to the Laser in the Olympics, and then onto the Finn.

World Sailing's hope is that the Olympic fleet offshore will be sponsored and therefore available at no charge to competitors. But according to an interview with French sailing website , Luc Joëssel , product manager at Bénéteau, in charge of Figaro 3 foiled monohull of which 50 have already been snapped up mostly by leading French shorthanded offshore sailing exponents, the numbers just don't add up for World Sailing's vision.

Joëssel claimed that Beneteau declined to bid the Beneteau 3 for World Sailing's newly created World Offshore Championship saying that it would have cost Beneteau over €5million. He added that they would only have been interested in the Olympic offshore event if each nation was also buying one or two of the new monohulls which are reported to have a price tag of €155,000 each, not including sails or electronics. That price tag would put the offshore class well out of the reach of young sailors who would have gone into the Finn class at a fraction of the price, particularly for an entry level used boat.

World Sailing has effectively closed the door on the Beneteau 3 by declaring that the chosen boat will not be a foiler, and also deny that a deal has already been signed with any supplier.

More Vote and Hope?

The fortunes of the Mixed Kiteboard are proving to be largely aspirational.

The reality is that there is still a massive imbalance in gender participation.

Male competitor numbers are low compared to other Olympic class championships. The disparity is masked given that the Kiteboards are running open entry world championships, while entry places in the other Olympic class World title events are allocated on a restricted basis.

The current female entry level in the Kiteboard is unacceptable for an Olympic event. Just 11 competitors from nine nations (under an open entry system) participated in the 2018 World Championships in Aarhus. There are 18 ranked women from 11 nations and 94 men ranked from 33 nations.

The North American Formula Kite championship held in early November attracted just 27 male competitors, and two female competitors – one of whom finished just a single race.

Of late, the Royal Yachting Association has recognised the paucity of female competitors in the designated Olympic Event, by advertising for female sailors to inducted into a training program click here to view the advertisement.

Of the other proposed Mixed Event, the Mixed Two-Person dinghy - assuming it is the 470 - should see the merging of the existing Men's and Women's fleets. There is no indication as to what will happen at World Championship level. It is quite possible that there would still be separate Mens and Womens fleets along with the Mixed fleet for those aiming at Olympic selection.

In the proposed Mixed Two Person Offshore Keelboat event safety aspects will require careful consideration. Racing shorthanded when sleep deprived in heavy weather is a serious safety issue which cannot be regulated. Self-sufficiency is also a vital part of offshore racing.

From December 1998 to March 2013 there have been at least 22 deaths in offshore racing (and a further 11 in the various Round the World races). The safety aspect of the proposed Mixed Offshore Keelboat event has to be treated very seriously. That offshore death statistic does not include the legendary Eric Tabarly, knocked overboard at night in June 1998 in the Irish Sea.

The decision by Volvo Ocean Race to run a female quota in the 2017/18 event should pay a good dividend for the Mixed Offshore Keelboat in that there is now a good pool of experienced female sailors who can cut over to the Olympic event. They would probably be joined by male compatriots also with Volvo OR experience. Many of both genders have previous Olympic regatta experience and success.

Those who have taken part in selection trials for offshore racing on a country basis will know that the process is far from perfect - even to select a three boat team, let alone just a single crew.

Like many of the Events proposals on the table at the Mid Year meetings and Annual Conference, they lacked in details of how the Qualification would be implemented – given that it would be quite different from the other nine Events which race through Qualifications, Finals and the Medal Race.

Where to from here?

There are two options ahead for World Sailing.

Either the 2024 Olympic Sailing Regatta can continue with the selected Events slate from the just concluded Annual Conference.

That slate has four Mixed Events; achieves Gender Equality in Participation and Events; trades off the Diversity of new Events against the loss of its oldest class and heritage; excludes male sailors above 85kg; accepts a reduction in fleet sizes and Universality, and introduces a boat costing over €100,000 into the Sailing Olympics.

Or, World Sailing can try and make a case to the IOC for the Events and Equipment to remain as for 2020, with just a single Mixed event and justify continuing to have an Event for Heavyweight Men; achieve Gender Equality in Participation and Events except for the Finn, and protect the current class progressions. Universality [numbers of nations competing] would remain close to the current level, factoring in the overall reduction imposed by the IOC of 380 to 350 athletes.

Sailing's greater value to the IOC is not in introducing zany events, but to stick to its events knitting and transition the best of media technology from the America's Cup and Volvo Ocean Race to the Olympic regatta. From there it is a short step for the IOC and their host broadcaster to import some of this technology across to other Olympic sports.

This process was started in a limited way at the combined class Hempel World Championships effecting a significant advance on the previous coverage of Olympic sailing.

The new media features would include the use of drones for coverage, in the place of camera helicopters, and 360VR to give viewers a unique onboard Olympic experience, along with the SAP analytics developed for the 2018 combined class Worlds in Aarhus.

Plus all courses need to covered - ocean as well as inshore. With the coverage of the ocean courses many of the visual elements that are being sought with the Offshore keelboat are present. The vital element is man versus the elements - which is a feature of Olympic sport that is unique to sailing.

The point that escapes the proponents of the Mixed Offshore Keelboat when they attempt to join up the dots between the Volvo Ocean Race coverage and the proposed Olympic event, is that the Volvo OR event had dedicated on board reporters (OBR's) on each boat to provide the video and images from onboard. The options for the Olympic event are to have an OBR on board in addition to the crew - which again may be a step too far for the IOC.

Without the OBR, the crew need to divert their attention from the Race to undertake media obligations. In the Volvo OR there is a minimum requirement on the OBR to provide a defined volume of coverage each day. These requirements cannot be part of an Olympic event as it is competitively unacceptable that a crew should be penalised for a media rule violation.

Those media have to coverage existing short-handed racing know that content coming off the boats varies from nothing to a daily camera piece. The key point here is that the content is produced while the boat is being steered by auto-helm - another feature of short handed sailing which is unacceptable in the Olympic context.

As can be seen in some of the images with this story, the sight of crews sailing in breaking 4metre Atlantic rollers, is spectacular - and gives very achievable video coverage with drones flying like seabirds, and in positions not possible with helicopters and camera boats.

Ironically the two boats best suited to sailing in these conditions - the Finn and the 470 - are the two classes that are most at risk of being dropped from the 2024 Olympic Sailing Regatta.

According to the International Olympic Committee, the Events for the 2024 Olympic Games do not have to be finalised until December 2020.

No doubt there will be some more course changes by World Sailing over the next two years.

Whether they are controlled tacks or further crash gybes remains to be seen.

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