Autumn approaches, the season of mists and mellow fruitfulness, and the World Sailing annual meeting in Sarasota, Florida in early November . . .
Sailing approaches this meeting with considerable trepidation, with World Sailing the governing body for the sport of sailing in disarray.
To say that it has lost its way is an understatement, with its financial incompetence under scrutiny and its Olympic policy in complete confusion, sailing faces a bleak winter.
The sport’s governing body has faced many criticisms of its organisation in recent years, but promises to clean-house have merely resulted in a tinkering with the byzantine committee structure and an attempt to commercialise everything, while displaying little knowledge or feeling for a competitive sport that is also a world-wide leisure activity.
The small cabal at the centre the World Sailing organisation, blinded by the multi-million-dollar figures thrown around by other, more commercially structured sports, seem intent on chasing grandiose dreams, with little concern for the collateral damage they are doing.
While attempts to build a viable competitive, professional sailing series for the Olympic classes have foundered, mainly due to the overreaching demands by World Sailing of the existing event organisers.
The one jewel in sailings crown, its presence in the Olympic Games, is now threatened by the incompetence and obscure machinations of the governing body.
At the November meeting in Sarasota a decision will be made on the equipment (the boat classes) to be used at the Paris Olympics in 2024.
While other sports have successfully expanded their Olympic events to incorporate new developments, World Sailing has mis-handled the process to such a degree that it seems to have lost the confidence of the IOC, and caused completely unnecessary confusion among Member National Authorities.
While skiing and cycling, have successfully added board and bike events to their range of Olympic events without damage to their traditional core events, World Sailing has managed to do just the opposite . . .
Developments in sail-boards, from the early windsurfers, to foil and kite variants, plus new competition formats have been greeted with a “head-in-the-sand” attitude and a complete failure to develop and present a united front to the IOC.
Rather than using the new developments as an opportunity to showcase the wide variety of competitive sailing events and their popularity, this lack of a unified policy has pushed sailing onto the defensive when attempting to make a case for expansion.
Instead, the present position of World Sailing, scrabling to achieve any sense of joined-up thinking, smacks of desperation.
The IOC is a major revenue source (£11.5m from the 2016 Games) and any hint of rejection seems to trigger a wild and essentially incompetent reaction. Compounded by a committee structure that involves constant reviewing and buck-passing, but little clear or structured decision making.
Ending up with totally unsatisfactory results for the sport.
The slate of revised events being presented by World Sailing is confused and incomplete, with vague formats bearing little relationship to the sport as practiced in real-life.
This lack of connection to grass-roots sailing has increased the overwhelming feeling that Sailing World is out of touch and irrelevent to the vast majority of club sailors, and plain dangerous to the development of the sport at the highest levels.
It is hopefully not too late to return Olympic Sailing to a status quo and build a proper plan to develop and incorporate new areas of our sport, as other international sports have so successfully done.
But, wth financial problems looming and the apparent lack of ability within the present World Sailing organisation, the immediate future looks bleak.
Get it wrong in Sarasota and we could see a major schism and free-for-all . . . this could endanger sailings Olympic status or we end up with a sailing version of “It’s a Knockout” (Jeux Sans Frontières)!
The annual conference of World Sailing takes place between 27 October and 4 November in Sarasota, Florida.
Note 1 – Skiing (since 1936) – Snowboarding was introduced to the Winter Olympics in 1998 alongside the existing Alpine and Nordic events, with four events, presently ten events. Freestyle Skiing was then added in 1992 (13 events).
Note 2 – Cycling (since 1896) added Mountain Biking in 1996 (2 events), and BMX racing in 2008 (4 events).
Note 3 – Sailing (since 1896). Boats used have reflected the status of general competitive sailing. From large keel boats, though the various Metre classes to the first dinghy class (1920), to the more modern dinghy/skiffs and small keelboats (last in 2012) and boards.
Note 4 – It’s a Knockout” (Jeux Sans Frontières) a TV game programme in which the games were described as school sports day for adults.