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Paris 2024: World Sailing wants to stop 'Arms Race' in Offshore Keelboat

by Richard Gladwell/Sail-World/com/nz 28 Apr 2019 06:52 PDT 29 April 2019
The J/99 is one of the hot picks for the new Olympic Offshore Keelboat class © J/Boats

World Sailing's Board has made another "Urgent" submission to be considered at the Mid-Year Council meeting to facilitate the inclusion of the new Mixed Two Person Offshore Keelboat in the 2024 Olympic Sailing Regatta in Marseille.

It used the same process to bring in a Submission at the Annual Conference in late 2018, to say that the "Mixed One Person Dinghy" event that it had selected at its May 2018 Meeting was six months later not considered to be viable, and instead should be replaced by a new event - the Mixed Two-Person Offshore Keelboat.

The proposed Regulation change establishes a system where World Sailing's Council will prescribe a list of different classes that it says will meet the key criteria for the Event, and may be used at later dates for qualification for the Event. The Class List must be announced by December 2019.

Four years later, by December 2023, the Submission says the Council shall select the class to be used for the new Mixed Two Person Offshore Event at the 2024 Olympic Regatta.

The process has been introduced by World Sailing to head off what it prophesies will be an "Arms Race" for the Offshore keelboat event.

There is nothing in the submission which specifies why the world body has only just realised that an "Arms Race" will develop, or indeed what one would look like in this context. The information was known at the time of the Offshore Keelboat event being selected in November 2018. Nothing has changed.

Previously World Sailing has intimated that the new keelboat will be supplied equipment in Marseille - meaning that there will be no need for competitors to purchase boats. And thus World Sailing avoids the argument that the new keelboat adds €100-200,000 to a country's Olympic Equipment bill - making the new Olympic class easily the most expensive of all.

Of course, it remains to be seen if the National Olympic Programs will fund the cost of the Offshore keelboat, or if this cost will fall to (wealthy) sailors. Pity the Member National Authorities who have to explain to their funders why the MNA's voted for unknowns and expense of the Offshore Keelboat when there was already a substantial investment and usually successful program running in the single-handed Finn class, which has now been written off.

The prescription of the so-called "long list" for the Offshore Keelboat implies that there will be different classes selected in the 30-35ft range based on availability in that "continent". The conundrum is that if World Sailing opt for a newer boat that is still in production then the cost is likely to be $200,000 plus per boat, with smaller sized fleets. If World Sailing go for an older boat, then the cost to purchase is cheaper, bigger fleets are available, but the boat is most likely to be out of production, and therefore cannot be selected for the 2024 Olympic Regatta.

Class Selection proposal is not the full picture

The full selection process for competitors in the 2024 Olympics is not specified in the Submission, and again a key decision will be made viewing only limited information.

The implication of the Board's Submission is that selection will be based on a regional/continental basis, which is a complete break with current selection practice for all the other Olympic Events. Currently, the sailors in each class qualify their country for an Olympic place from one of two world championships, and with additional spots available on a regional basis. The major sailing nations all qualify from the first or second round of qualification at a world championship level.

If the same Olympic qualification model is used - as for the other nine Olympic events, the world championships for the Mixed Offshore Keelboat will need to be staged using one of the prescribed classes. That would usually mean using borrowed private boats which are then equalised as much as possible. New sails will be required.

The latest Submission has the serious flaw that the 2024 Olympic Equipment will be selected from "the Equipment for the Event from the list approved under Regulation 23.1.9(a)."

That of course, means that one of the classes selected for the 2024 Olympics will have been the class used by one of the continents for training and racing for almost four years from January 2020 to December 2023.

The unlucky continents will only have six months practice in the same class/chosen Olympic Equipment for the new Event. That of course assumes that the boat can be supplied immediately, without the usual backlogs and supply restrictions that follow the introduction of any new Olympic class. And further if such backlogs do exist, along with satisfying the Olympic production requirements for up to 15 boats, then there is a reasonable chance that many countries would not receive a boat in any reasonably useful time before the 2024 Olympics.

As it is most likely that the new boat will be built in France or certainly Europe, it will be a lot quicker to take delivery in Europe and then set up in Marseille.

Young 88 - Owner Driver Championships - photo © Richard Gladwell <a" />
Young 88 - optimising two or more of an existing keelboat class to mimic the expected Olympic keelboat using computer simulation is a serious strategy for the Olympic Offshore keelboat event. - photo © Richard Gladwell

Who will be the lucky region?

World Sailing is broken down organisationally into 17 regions (Areas A to Q), within the eight continents of the World.

It is not clear how the selection system will work - if there are two entries per continent - or one entry per region. But under either system, it is inevitable that two or more top countries will be pitted against each other at a regional/continental selection level, and one will be knocked out.

That is contrary to long-standing Olympic practice where multiple countries from the same region or continent can all compete in the Olympic Regatta, provided they qualify through world championships/regional qualification. Now it will be limited by region/continent - further lowering the standard of the Olympic Sailing competition. [Under the current one entry per nation system, if one country has the two top sailors in an Olympic class, only one can be sent. In other sports, such as Athletics both could compete if they met qualifying times.]

Either way, it would seem that the Offshore Olympic Keelboat event will require 12-15 supplied boats, plus spares. It is also likely that a Volvo Ocean Race "Boatyard" operation will be required for servicing the fleet, as the keelboat equipment including safety and media gear is a lot more complex than used for other supplied dinghies and boards.

Using the present World Sailing regions for selection, Australia would be pitted against New Zealand in Area L (SW Pacific). If continents are used they will also come up against each other as part of Oceania. Normally both strong sailing nations would expect to qualify for the Olympic Regatta off the long-standing World Championship selection model. Again using Australia and New Zealand and the other eight countries that make up Area L, or the "continent" of Oceania an example, there is no common one design offshore keelboat class that is common to all, and suitable for selection purposes.

Once the decision is made and announced on the Offshore Keelboat Equipment, any country that has qualified for the 2024 Olympics - and who is serious about medalling - will purchase at least two of the new class and set up a permanent training base in Marseille, or nearby.

Of course, the Host Country, France is guaranteed a place in every event in the 2024 Olympic Sailing Regatta, which includes the Mixed Offshore keelboat, and is spared having to undergo the tawdry regional/continental selection process, and from December 2019, can focus solely on the Olympic event and Marseille.

The Urgent Submission makes no mention as to whether France, as Host Country, will have its keelboat class prescribed by World Sailing, or whether the French can sail any boat they please, given that selected class or not, there are several highly reputable production boatbuilders in France.

Indeed any country can completely ignore World Sailing's prescriptions, can purchase their own boats and run their own programs. The only time they will have to sail the prescribed class for their region/continental qualifier.

Holding back the arms race tide?

If passed, all the Urgent Submission achieves is to stall expenditure of €1-2million per medal-serious nation until January 2024 when an intense six to eight-month Olympic buildup program would commence. The fortunate countries whose regional/continental keelboat was selected for the Olympics will have a four-year start on their not so fortunate competitors.

One "Elite Mixed Two-Handed Offshore Racing" program, using two Figaro Beneteau 3 one designs, was priced at €850,000 per year - a cost which did not seem unreasonable considering what was on offer - which was a serious, professional Olympic two boat sailing and training program in the new class, using charted boats.

Wold Sailing's so-called "Arms Race" was always going to be an issue as soon as World Sailing Council was persuaded to select the Mixed Two Person Offshore Keelboat event.

What does an "arms race" look like?

Like King Canute, the panjandrums of World Sailing with their "Urgent" Submission, seem to believe that it can stem the inevitable flow of megabucks into the various Olympic Offshore Keelboat programs.

Of course, as so often happens with applying limitations of this type - they just encourage the well-heeled and state-funded countries to concoct an alternative program which is just as expensive, or more so than doing the obvious approach. In this context that could involve researching the long list of classes published by World Sailing, and through a process of elimination of the unlikely choices, those no longer in production, those made outside of Europe etc, and make some educated guesses as to the final options.

Then using computer simulation, from America's Cup programs and the like, the team can devise a development boat that will be close to the expected Olympic choice. That includes mimicking the righting moment which is especially important in shorthanded sailing - along with developing trimming techniques and settings.

The second stage involves taking a boat - in the New Zealand context like the Young 88, or the British like the Figaro 2 or something more recent - and running the polars and other characteristics against the Offshore Keelboat profile and then reconfigure a couple of Young 88's for example (relatively cheap at $55,000 or so for a used very competitive race boat) and which have a strict one design hull and international class standard rules.

Again America's Cup style modelling can be used to get the optimum performance from the test boats as they are sailed, and crews trialled and developed over three years. Massaging one design boats can pay big dividends, as was seen in the last Volvo Ocean Race, where the returning teams brought a wealth of knowledge and data, and had an early advantage for the first three legs despite sailing boats that were strict one designs, with supplied one-design sails and rigs, maintained by a common support facility, and sailed by some of the smartest professional crews in offshore racing.

When the Offshore Keelboat is announced in December 2023, it will be a relatively simple matter to computer-simulate that Olympic boat against your existing test boat - determine the differences in performance and also what is common, and then make the adjustments to your test boat and strategy.

Of course, picking a regional/continental keelboat doesn't stop expensive weather and data collection programs being developed. Nor does it stop a team training at the Olympic venue of Marseille, or at one somewhere else in the planet that mimics Marseille.

Most countries running state-funded Olympic Sailing programs also have Sports Science/Technology programs which encourage research projects, of which one along the Offshore Keelboat lines above would be an ideal candidate, as it brings America's Cup style modelling into the Olympics, increasing the chances of winning Olympic medals.

These projects have been run in previous Olympic cycles to optimise Olympic classes, with $250,000 being soaked up very easily in CFD analysis.

Far from stopping an "arms race" the Urgent Submission actually triggers one. The panjandrums of World Sailing would have been better to say nothing, play their cards close to their chest, and leave the well-heeled state and lottery-funded programs to play their guessing games. If World Sailing felt there was a genuine need to suggest boats for Qualification Series, then that should only be done after World Sailing have announced and obtained agreement on the process that will be used for allocating Olympic places, if they are not going to follow the same process that is followed for the other nine Olympic Sailing events.

However they should not be giving the Equipment Selection game away by disclosing a "long list" of candidates.

As we have seen with too many decisions made by World Sailing's Council, they are often politically driven and it becomes a given that whatever the Board proposes will be passed, despite (or because of) the vagaries of the World Sailing electronic voting system. Ironically an "Urgent" Submission to address the voting issues of the November 2018 Annual Conference was not considered to be "Urgent" and has been referred to the November 2019 Annual Conference.

There is nothing in the Submission that prevents an MNA ignoring it completely, as it is only relevant to the boats used for Qualification and Selection Trial. The Submission is more likely to trigger an "Arms Race" than avert one. World Sailing seem to have forgotten that the objective of most countries is to win Medals (regardless of cost), rather than just train and attempt to qualify in a boat that "ensure[s] that the most diverse number of MNAs and the largest possible group of sailors will be able to train and plan for the Olympic Games."

Well connected US sailing website has published an extract from a paper they say will be be circulated ahead of the Mid-Year Meeting.

To read click here

The Jeanneau sunfast 3600 won the 2017 Two-hand Round North Island (of New Zealand ) Race, but at 37ft is outside the World Sailing target length of 34ft.Start SSANZ Two Man Round North Island race Auckland.  February 16, 2017 - photo © Richard Gladwell <a" />
The Jeanneau Sunfast 3600 won the 2017 Two-hand Round North Island (of New Zealand ) Race, but at 37ft is outside the World Sailing target length of 34ft.Start SSANZ Two Man Round North Island race Auckland. February 16, 2017 - photo © Richard Gladwell

The Submission from the Board can be read by clicking here or the text is below:

Purpose or Objective:

To propose a different procedure for the selection of the equipment for the Mixed Two Person Keelboat Offshore event.


Delete current Regulation 23.1.9 and replace as follows:

23.1.9 Notwithstanding any other Regulation, for the Mixed Two Person Keelboat Offshore Event at the 2024 Olympic Sailing Competition:

(a) no later than 31 December 2019, Council shall select a list of different equipment which it considers meets the key criteria for the Event and may
therefore be approved by Council at later dates for qualification for the Event;

(b) no later than 31 December 2023, Council shall select the Equipment for the Event from the list approved under Regulation 23.1.9(a).

Current Position

Under current Regulation 23.1.3(e), the selection of equipment for the Mixed Two Person Keelboat
Offshore event for the 2024 Olympic Sailing Competition must be made by 31 December 2019.

1. The Mixed Two Person Keelboat Offshore event has to be an event aimed at testing the offshore sailing skills of athletes and should not allow an equipment ‘arms race’.
2. The equipment selected for the Paris 2024 Olympic Games should be selected as late as possible to ensure there is no arms race.
3. A ‘long list’ of equipment should be approved at the Council at the 2019 Annual Conference. The ‘long list’ will include equipment that meets the key criteria for the Mixed Two Person Keelboat Offshore event.
4. The ‘long list’ will ensure that the most diverse number of MNAs and the largest possible group of sailors will be able to train and plan for the Olympic Games
5. The ‘long list’ of equipment will provide event organisers, MNAs and sailors with opportunities to train, compete at events and host Olympic Qualification Events in equipment that is readily available and affordable in their continent
6. Equipment selected from for the Olympic Qualification Events and Olympic Games will be chosen from the ‘long list’.

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