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Gladwell's Line: Where to now for World Sailing post Bermuda?

by Richard Gladwell, Sail-World.com/nz 10 Nov 11:57 PST 11 November 2019
The Board of World Sailing - World Sailing's Annual Conference is in Bermuda from 29 October to 3 November, 2019 © Tom Roberts

Congratulations to Dan Slater for being awarded the Orbit Travel Sailor of the Year by Yachting New Zealand on Friday night.

He won the OK Dinghy Worlds sailed out of Wakatere BC in February this year, and backed it up with a second World title sailing aboard the 12 metre Legacy, skippered by Jesper Bank. She was formerly the second of the three fibreglass 12 Metres, built as part of the New Zealand Challenge for the 1987 America's Cup in Fremantle.

A former Youth World Champion in the Laser class, Dan went on to sail 18fters in Australia for a couple of seasons, before switching to the 49er class representing New Zealand in the 2000 Olympics in Sydney. After a slow start to the 2008 Olympics in the Finn class he placed well in the back end of the regatta and represented New Zealand again in the Finn class, finishing seventh overall. An unnecessary altercation with Denmark's Jonas Hogh-Christensen in the final stages of the Medal Race, after which the Dane had to perform a penalty turn, was enough to ensure Ben Ainslie (GBR) won his fourth Olympic Gold medal after he and Hogh-Christensen finished the regatta tied on points.

Slater's win in the OK Worlds came after a challenging final day's racing, where he headed off one of the world's top sailors Freddie Loof (SWE), a double Olympic bronze and Gold medalist in the Finn and Star classes, and World Youth Champion Josh Armit who placed third, sailing a 35yr old boat.

Throughout his sailing career, Dan has been just as successful as a coach - mostly for international sailors. And now provides a vital service for dinghy and one-design sailors through The Water Shed in Barry's Point Road, Takapuna.

With that background of success and experience, Dan has a wealth of knowledge. He's always marched to a different drum than the mainstream, and delivers success. Hopefully, we'll see him coaching New Zealand teams at a high level before too long, rather than being a member of that group of very successful Kiwi coaches who ply their profession offshore.

Understanding the Splashdown

Over the past week, we've featured several America's Cup stories including one of a spectacular splashdown by Emirates Team New Zealand while out sailing in a fresh sea breeze on Thursday off the East Coast Bays. From about 2.5nm distant we were able to catch the action while testing a land-based camera setup.

While these splashdowns look spectacular, they seem to be moderately frequent, and we are told look far worse than they feel. They are not in the same category as usually race-ending AC50 nosedives. Spectacle without the carnage is the best description. However they are show-stoppers during a race, and the teams need to have a very good understanding of the reasons behind this AC75 phenomena if they are to prevail in March 2021.

The one on Thursday forced Te Aihe into a roll to windward as the tension appeared to come off the mainsheet, and the leeward foil came clear out of the water. While that looks very dramatic - the wing operates not that far below the surface. The Kiwi boat has the longest wings (and smallest wing-fuselage) of the four AC75's launched, so getting the wing completely clear was still quite a feat.

Looking back through the images, frame by frame, and of a similar incident shot at much closer range on Monday, the splashdowns happen without a lot of warning or the AC75 nosediving in the way that ETNZ did in their AC50 on Day 2 of the Challenger Semi-Final in Bermuda.

What was stunning from Thursday's sail was the speed of Te Aihe - both upwind in the 18kt seabreeze, and more so when they took off downwind at jaw-dropping speed.

World Sailing's wins and misses in Bermuda

The three two-handed Trans Atlantic Races currently under way are dominated by French crews, and it is no surprise that the French are extremely keen to see the Mixed Offshore Keelboat event contested at the 2024 Olympic Regatta to be sailed out of Marseille.

The 2024 Olympic classes were again on the agenda at the Annual Conference of World Sailing, which finished in the first week of November in Bermuda.

The beleaguered world body, at last, got something right with the selection of the Starboard iFoil foiling windsurfer as the Equipment for the Mens and Womens Windsurfer event at Marseille.

The backdrop to that decision is that after the Board of World Sailing had on three successive occasions rejected the recommendation of its expert Equipment Committee that the Equipment for the Windsurfer event should be evaluated. Last May, World Sailing's Council sided with the Equipment Committee rather than just giving a big tick to the incumbent RS:X, and called for a re-opening of tenders and a proper Evaluation and Sea Trial of shorted listed candidates.

While the earlier Evaluation and Sea Trial for the Men's and Women's single-handed event, had raised some serious queries over the conduct of the trial, the Windsurfer Evaluation drew few reservations. The difference between the two lay in the quality of the Evaluation Team for the Windsurfer Event. Most of the 20 person (ten male and female sailors) were on 2020 Olympic programs for the Windsurfer, and others had similar credentials. All-round it was a much more balanced team, and the trial was fortunate indeed to have attracted such a quality group.

The surprising aspect of the feedback from the Evaluation team was that despite having a vested interest in the current Olympic Equipment, the majority favoured a switch to the foiling board, of which three types were under evaluation. Two planing boards rounded out the trial - the RS:X and the Glide promoted by Bruce Kendall (NZL). Aside from a significantly reduced price the Evaluation Committee found that the Glide offered no significant advantage over the RS:X. However with the decision made in favour of the Starboard iFoil for the Olympic Equipment, the question is what happens to the RS:X?

It would seem unlikely that it will remain as the favoured equipment for the Youth Worlds, and maybe that is a role that can be filled by the Glide.

The big fail of the Annual Conference was that the three year, £300,000 exercise to implement a new Governance structure for the world body did not receive the required 75% majority.

The surprise of the vote was that 20 of the 59 votes cast, or 33% were against accepting the proposal. The size of the "reject" vote is a significant barrier to getting the proposal accepted at an Extraordinary Annual Meeting. The view was expressed that several years of governance change effort were at risk of having that work rejected by a 25% majority. Instead the 'reject" vote was 33% which is quite different.

In looking at the way forward, if indeed there is one, part of the problem is that the vote was held in secret, and it is not possible to see who was for and against. Additionally in the debate on the Proposal on the day of the Annual Meeting, most of the speakers were in favour of the proposals - yet the vote was lost.

An earlier submission to the Annual Conference to delay the Proposal was supported by only eight of 41 eligible voters with the nine Board members bloc voting.

It would be easy to dismiss the vote as a "protest vote" against the current Board. But independent sports media Inside the Games saw it as a body blow to World Sailing and its President, Kim Andersen who is up for re-election next year.

Certainly there was plenty to protest about.

The financial position of World Sailing could be much improved - with the organisation saying that on a conservative basis there could be a negative cashflow position of £1.3million come August 2020 - just before the IOC distribution from the 2020 Olympic Regatta. For more details on World Sailing's financial situation by an independent media organisation see insidethegames.biz

While the President lauded the 2024 Olympic events as celebrating the diversity of the sport, he failed to mention that it came at the cost of excluding any event in which male sailors 85kgs and above could compete.

Further several events and event formats have been introduced for the 2024 Olympic Regatta, which were untried at their time of selection and which are still experimental. The number of Mixed-gender events has increased from one in 2020 to four in 2024. The class progression from Junior to Youth and onto the Olympics is also disrupted, with the solution apparently to introduce more Mixed events at Youth Worlds level.

The Annual Conference was held in the wake of the sudden departure of the CEO of World Sailing less than two weeks before the Annual Conference. Several key and long-standing members of the senior management team at World Sailing have also departed in the past year.

The controversy over the relocation of the World Sailing office from Southampton to London, one of the top five most expensive locations in the world, locking the organisation into a ten year lease.

The ongoing complaint now being heard by World Sailing's Ethics Commission against the President and (now former) CEO over the conduct of voting at the 2018 Annual Conference, where four Councillors claimed that their votes had been wrongly recorded when the vote detail was finally declared a month later. Significantly a new voting system was in place for Bermuda which was simple, transparent, and passed all testing each day of the conference.

Ongoing surveillance by the EU Anti-Trust authorities over the arrangements for the licencing arrangements for the builders and other OEM's for the Olympic classes, which was claimed at the Annual Conference to have cost £200,000 in legal advice.

Against this litany it is a credibility stretch to claim that the issues can be sheeted home to the current Constitution and that a completely new approach was required.

There was an uneasy feeling among many Councillors that unless they voted for the governance proposal, they would - as one commented - be sent "like bad boys, to stand in the corner".

In the end, the vote broke down into a question of trust, and clearly a third of the World Sailing Council were not prepared to accept the current proposal and then hope for changes - any of which would need to clear the same high bar of 75% approval to be passed.

Indeed, "The Naughty Corner" would have been very much standing room only.

Of course, the dilemma facing an already cash-strapped World Sailing is whether it is prudent to continue to spend on re-jigging a proposal which was rejected by a significant margin, and it would appear that the objection is with the fundamental premises of the Governance Proposal rather than just an adjustment of the detail.

If an amended Proposal is put to an Extraordinary General Meeting in May, as suggested, and still fails to reach the required 75% approval, then the project is as good as dead and over £300,000 will be written off.

World Sailing is also in the process of implementing a new CRM package which will completely change the way the organisation handles information and issues, resolving many of the complaints aired at the Annual Conference. The downside is that typically such implementations are under-estimated in the resources required and cost to complete. Again the prudence of pursuing the rejected Governance proposal is questionable for an organisation which must manage to exist on a very tight budget for the next 12 months.

While the above reeks of sailing politics, sadly the people most affected by the changes and uncertainty are young sailors, who if they are to realise their Olympic dreams and aspirations need certainty so they can plan their sport and studies for the next six years. Currently, that is not possible with the required degree of confidence, for parents and sponsors to make the investment in equipment and competition confident of the path ahead.

Typical is the Submission accepted by the Annual Conference for the announcement of the Mixed Offshore Keelboat, which agreed that the actual class to be used would not be announced until December 2023 - seven months before the regatta. Elsewhere it was advised that the Mixed Offshore Keelboat event would also be sailed at the 2022 combined Sailing World Championships at The Hague for a fleet of 40 boats.

No mention of which class, or whether the boats would be supplied, and how this would dovetail with the 2024 Olympic event.

The time is well past for World Sailing to start joining up the dots with this event, in a way that is clear to stakeholders, rather than just put more on Marseille's page.

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