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Paris 2024: Kites overwhelm 470 as preferred alternative event to Mixed Offshore

by Richard Gladwell/ 14 May 2021 07:54 PDT 15 May 2021
Formula Kite Mixed Team Relay European Championships, Day 4 © IKA / Alex Schwarz

The Council of World Sailing has voted solidly in favour of separate Mens and Womens Kiteboard, ahead of separate the Mens and Womens 470 events, if the International Olympic Committee does not accept the Mixed Offshore Keelboat event for the Paris Olympic regatta in 2024. Both the Kiteboard and 470 were to be sailed as Mixed events in 2024.

The recommendation of the expert Events Committee was for the Mixed 470 event to be split back into a Mens and Womens 470 event as it has been contested since the 1988 Olympics. That advice was rejected, as so often happens with Events Committee recommendations, with only 15 of the 38 votes going the way of the Olympic two-person dinghy, with 23 opposed.

With the first option closed down, the vote was then taken on the second option which was to unbundle the Mixed Kiteboard Relay event which required pairs of sailors to contest a single medal, and instead opt for the more understandable separate Mens and Womens Kiteboard event. The two-medal kite event received 33 votes with only two against.

The third vote was then taken to determine the second alternative for the Mixed Offshore, which was between separate the Mens and Womens 470 events or to consider the other 11 submissions that had been approved by the Constitution Committee. The 470 was the clear winner of that vote with 37 votes for and only one against.

The outcome of the third vote blocked further consideration of the Finn as the heavyweight mens singlehander, and the venerable class will end its 69 year history in the Tokyo 2020 Olympic sailing regatta, if indeed that event takes place.

With the Council voting essentially controlled along geographic lines, rather than sailing participation, the smaller countries and regions spoke as one in favour of unbundling the Mixed Kite relay event for the obvious reasons that they felt it would be more difficult to get male and female riders into a single relay team, while finding one sailor of each gender would be much more practical. The ability to travel easily with kite equipment was another common factor.

Not mentioned at all in the call for more universality, was the fact that the RS:X, the second largest class at the Olympics had been replaced by the windfoiler - which has had massive take-up in its relatively short life-time. With four events Mens & Womens Laser and Mens & Womens RS:X in the Olympics catering for universality, on the basis of 2016 representation, it was not explained why the trade-off why six were now required. Four of the ten events are now sailed on a board instead of a boat. Half of the 2024 Events will be in foilers. In Rio, 66 nations were represented in the Sailing, an increase of three over Weymouth and with less sailor numbers.

Early in the Council meeting, it was pointed out by Jo Aleh (NZL), a Gold and Silver medalist in the Womens 470, now the Athletes Commission representative on the World Sailing Board, that the Athletes Commission representative on the Events Committee did not vote according to the mandate given by the Commission. That vote was supposed to go the way of the two kiteboard events, but instead was used in favour of the 470 option. That vote switch was enough to give the 470 a single vote majority at the Events Committee. However three other Committees - the Equipment Committee, the Athletes Commission, and the Womens Forum had all supported the split Kite event over the split 470. Had the Athletes' Commission representative voted as instructed in the Events Committee, then that Committee would also have supported the Kite over the 470, by a single vote margin.

Clearly the political spadework for the Kiteboard two-medal option had all been done outside the Council meeting, and despite some outstanding and compelling advocacy from the 470 representative at the Council Meeting, his arguments fell on deaf ears.

The Mixed Offshore Keelboat advocates still advanced the position that their event remained the first choice on the ten event slate put forward by World Sailing, who were told to think again by the IOC in their letter of April 12, 2021

It outlined concerns with field of play security, scope and complexity, broadcast cost and complexity of the Mixed Two-Person Offshore event, and World Sailing not having the opportunity to deliver an Offshore World Championship.

World Sailing has until May 26 to propose two alternative events, which could come from the nine Sailing events approved by the IOC, but split from Mixed into separate Mens and Womens Events.

If the IOC reject the Mixed Offshore event and pick up the Mens and Womens Kiteboard, then the Offshore Event will find it politically very difficult to get into the 2028 or 2032 Olympic regatta, as the Kiteboard will be very hard to shift. The other classes are solid, and clearly there is a focus from the smaller nations to have classes that are more portable and less expensive. If a 470 struggles on expense and portability what chance does an offshore keelboat have?

The meeting considered other Mid-Year business including World Sailing's previously dire financial situation, which appears to have levelled out. But the world body's financial future is predicated on getting a full pay-out from the Tokyo 2020 Olympics - and that being so, would not have to draw on the overdraft facility secured against the UKP2.6million World Sailing Trust investment. The cost of World Sailing's expensive central London office space is still a millstone around the neck of the organisation. It has now doubled in weight following COVID, with many City corporations also looking to downsize/exit for the same reason as World Sailing. Rent reductions have also been refused by a hard-line landlord.

CEO David Graham admitted that the organisation would have gone into liquidation without a multi-million dollar injection of funds by the IOC gone into liquidation without a multi-million dollar injection of funds by the IOC.

Inside the Games elaborated on the effect of COVID19 on the London rental market, and reports Graham as saying that a 12 month rent free period may have to be offered and that this had been factored into the revised cash flow forecasts. Click here to read the full report from Inside the Games.

There was mention made of World Sailing opening an office in China, however it was not clear if this was a move to shift the seat of the world body, or as a prerequisite to attracting sponsorship from Chinese sources. Budget has also been allowed for the engagement of consultants in China.

More disturbing was the advice that while the IOC has reduced athlete numbers by 4% as part of its cost reduction and downsizing efforts, athlete numbers in Sailing had been reduced disproportionately by the IOC in the same period by 17%. By 2024, Olympic sailing will have been reduced by over 70 sailors from the 400 places allocated in the 2012 Olympics, and in an accelerating trend 50 places between the 380 of Rio 2016 to 330 of Paris 2024, or the elimination of the Mens Laser fleet which attracted 46 entries in Rio 2016.

Most Olympic sports sought an increase in Athlete numbers for 2024, none of which were granted according to the IOC, with most being told to hold on their 2020 allocation. It is clear that the shrink in sailing athlete numbers is one of the fuels feeding the IOC's downsizing fire.

Against that backdrop, and assuming the IOC's concerns can be alleviated, it is hard to see where the Mixed Offshore event can be accommodated in 2028 or beyond, without dropping the Mixed 470 altogether, or merging the 49er/49erFX into a new Mixed event.

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