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LA28: Kites and Nacra 17 dodge a bullet to get confirmation for 2028 Olympics

by Richard Gladwell/ 29 May 2022 06:53 PDT 30 May 2022
Tokyo2020 - Day 4 - July, 28, - Enoshima, Japan. Nacra 17 start © Richard Gladwell - / nz

World Sailing's Mid Year Council Meeting has concluded in Abu Dhabi, UAE, The main business on the final day was confirmation of the Olympic Equipment and Events for the Los Angeles Olympic Regatta in 2028.

The Council had to vote on two submissions - one from the Events Committee M03-22 and the other via the Equipment Committee M05-22. The latter was developed by two of the incumbent class associations - the International Kite Association and the Int 470 Association - who covered three of the four events supposed to be under review and unsurprisingly recommended that their Equipment and Events be retained for the 2028 Olympics.

The Submission from the Events Committee noted that it was "A submission from the Chairman of the Events Committee and the Equipment Committee."

But sticking with its long-standing practice, World Sailing Council refused to accept the recommendations of its expert Events Committee and went off in another direction entirely. The frustration with the inevitable outcome was apparent in the voice of Events Committee Chair John Derbyshire (GBR) as he spoke to the joint Equipment and Events Committee submission.

As for the Mixed Multihull and Nacra 17, the 470/IKA submission skipped over the serious issues of cost and lack of Nacra 17 international growth raised yet again on the floor of the World body meeting. The bottom line was a vote for the status quo.

The Decision shores up the position of the Kite and 470 Events for Paris 2024 but offers no clear way of resolving the issues of cost of the Nacra 17 Mixed Multihull, which was claimed to have doubled in price since its inclusion in the 2016 Olympic Regatta.

In its Submission, the Events Committee presented the more creative option - with the Kiteboard event for Men and Women being replaced with a new Event - the Men's and Women's Board, with a later Equipment choice - presumably at the Annual Conference in November - being made to continue with the Kiteboard event, or switch to the fast-growing Wingfoil.

A change in the format of the new Board event was also proffered - with an Opening series being sailed, followed by a Medal Series. The final race winner in the Medal Series would be awarded the Gold medal.

Option to select Wingfoil or Kite

The Event Committee provided a substantial list of evaluation criteria to select the Equipment, which would have put the Kiteboard under pressure from the Wingfoil - reckoned to be the fastest-growing discipline in sailing. Its problem is that it doesn't yet have an officially recognised World Championship, nor is it a recognised class. However, proposals were on the table for this process, including World Championships and Event structure to be developed. Of course, the lack of these basic structures has not deterred the same Council from creating Olympic events on the Conference floor and has previously promoted events to Olympic status that were yet to hold a world championship.

"Selecting a New Event does not automatically imply change. Recommendation 1 is based on the understanding that the new "Board Events" retain the fundamentals of the current format, and it is just a branding of the Event to be able to consider additional equipment such as wingfoil, which is demonstrating considerable organic growth, alongside Kite," the Events Committee noted in its Submission.

"With the requirement to select new Equipment by 31 December 2023, the WP felt this was sufficient time to explore the possibility of new Equipment for the Event without negative impact to sailors or MNAs. The outcome of the process to select a new Event could be retaining the current Equipment."

COVID and the pandemic have been a big handbrake on the sport over the last two years, together with the lack of opportunity for Committees to meet off-screen. It is hard to understand, when the Mid-Year meeting could have been used for discussion, as to why it was imperative to lock in Events six years from the 2028 Olympic Regatta, and then accept a submission via another Committee, but originally from two of the classes under review, the effect of which effectively made the event/equipment choice six months earlier than required.

In the end, the lobby group that got the Kites into the 2024 Olympics appeared to carry the day once again. The Nacra 17 benefited from the call for stability and had a lucky escape. The Mixed 470 was never in doubt, despite claiming that the general public couldn't tell the difference between the 470 and a 49er.

The short-circuited 2028 Olympic class selection process appears to have flown in the face of a decision taken at the March meeting of the World Sailing Board, where sign-off was given on a proposal "that World Sailing would work in conjunction with McKinsey to determine the Olympic Strategy. The work done to date has resulted in confirmation (in principle) from McKinsey (USA led) that they will support the project, on a pro-bono basis."

"The Board approved the core team to spearhead the project. The next steps include finalising a consultancy agreement with McKinsey, establishing the pillars that frame the strategy, agreeing on the desired output, the timeline and milestones and stakeholders to be involved during the process, which will all be agreed in the initial meeting with McKinsey."

This initiative would also appear to have been somewhat neutered by the premature Council decision where Events and Equipment now can't be changed for the next two Olympiads.

Time-out denied

A request by Malav Shroff (IND) that Regulation 23 be suspended for six months was ruled out of order, with the Chairman's ruling "that we are already in Regulation 23" [process] - and couldn't suspend at this stage. The effect of the suspension would have given the Committees of World Sailing, and maybe even the sailors, the chance to have a proper consultation process and maybe conduct some Evaluation Trials. Yet again, World Sailing put its faith and the future of the sport in process and good intentions - and was happy to run with whatever outcomes fell out of that very optimistic approach.

The Mixed 470 retained its place under both proposals.

The other significant point of difference was over the Nacra 17 used in the Mixed Multihull Event.

Both Submissions opted to retain the Mixed Multihull Event, with the Events Committee deciding it was time to end the involvement of the Nacra 17 as an Olympic class - with some Councilors citing the escalating cost of the class as being an insurmountable issue and the best option being to select new equipment for the Event. That class could have been a foiling or non-foiling catamaran.

The Equipment Committee/IKA & 470 submission ran up the White Flag on the issue of the campaign cost of the Nacra 17 and its components. They pushed the line of needing stability in equipment/classes/events, despite having changed half the classes/events for Paris 2024. Of course, the Council had the good intention to try and achieve some change/cost reduction, placing their faith in the expectation that new builders would be licenced, which would alleviate the current concerns. Good luck with that one.

The Board of World Sailing decided to endorse the Equipment Committee/470 & IKA submission, which was sufficient for the majority of the Councilors to fall into lockstep with the Board recommendation. The vote was taken on a show of hands. It is a fair bet that most of the regions voting only wanted one or two of the outcomes in the Submission and got the second, third or fourth by default.

There was only token discussion on the proposals, and the final vote for submission M05-22 effectively got World Sailing into a position six months ahead of time - and in the first face to face meeting for the World body for two years.

While there is always the chance that the Mid-Year meeting decisions could be overturned at the Annual Conference in Abu Dhabi, UAE in late October, this would seem unlikely, and would require a 75% majority to re-open the decision just made.

The most sobering report of the Mid Year Meeting was the lengthy MNA Debtors list comprising some 50 countries and regional associations - almost all were in the "developing country" category, with another eight Member National Authorities under formal suspension - nearly all were African nations.

Given that African continent countries are the most numerous in the International Olympic Committee, a more serious and more profound look at the composition of the Olympic Equipment and Classes would appear to be well overdue if Sailing is serious about growing its international representation at Olympic level.

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