The wonderful spectacle that is the Princess Sophie Regatta, newly returned to World Sailing’s revamped world cup series, showed just how to run a top-class international dinghy regatta.
After two years of on-off planning, Mallorca showed why World Sailing had to get then back onside. With the island struggling to reboot its holiday industry from almost total wipe out, they stepped up and turned-in another first-class performance.
And there’s the rub . . . This tiny holiday island, population less than 1 million, can find the time, expertise and will to run a world-class event, attracting 8oo boats and their crews.
While the UK, population 68 million, with a Royal Yachting Association that constantly reminds us of its world class credentials and success. With a purpose built Olympic facility and on-tap government funding, cannot manage to put the time and effort into organising a decent Olympic class sailing event now and again.
The British Sailing team at RYA House will no doubt look at the results from the Mallorca event with quiet satisfaction, without any sense of contradiction or embarrassment in their position as a major player without a major event . . . dependent on the efforts and generosity of others in putting in the hard yards to build and run these first class events.
The renaissance of the Princess Sophie starkly highlights this contradiction in the RYA position, with a dearth of Olympic sailing events in the UK and the failure to build on the much vaunted London Olympic legacy, and despite a purpose-built Olympic sailing centre in Weymouth.
The last full-on Olympic classes Regatta there was back in 2016.
The RYA receives £25million per Olympic cycle to train and organise the British sailing squad, one of the highest remunerated sports associations in the UK, and has access to funds to support international events here, but it has failed to hold an Olympic class international championship event since 2019 (49er, FX, Nacra17 Europeans).
There are no Olympic class glamour events in the home of the most successful Olympic sailing nation of recent times – bankrolled by the British public – no opportunity to see these Olympic medal winners competing on their home waters.
The great international sports build their public recognition and their media interest through iconic events and venues . . . Wimbledon, The Open, The British Grand Prix, Wembley, and dare one mention . . . Cowes and the Fastnet Race?
Venues and events that combine historical presence with shear hard work to build a reputation for sporting excellence.
Other countries regularly hold great Olympic dinghy regattas, Kiel Week, Medemblik, Hyeres, Miami, Melbourne, but sadly that sense of responsibility to support dinghy sailing – Olympic or National – has been allowed to die in the UK, the very birthplace of competitive dinghy racing.
The RYA seem content to take the money and claim the plaudits for the success of its stars, without also tackling what is surely an important part of their remit . . . building the spectator base and enthusiasm for the sport, creating a competitive atmosphere that attracts other world and Olympic greats to the home of dinghy sailing.
Once again this publicly financed team, will prepare for an Olympic Games – Paris 2024 – without any competitive appearances planned in the UK.
Is that really what UK Sport funding was intended to achieve. A ring-fenced, global-hopping exclusivity, that can only be accessed live on the rare occasions that Britain is awarded the Olympic Games?
Among its many uplifting mission statements UK Sport says that it will . . . enable front-row access to extraordinary sporting moments; securing and hosting exciting global sporting events; that reach new audiences, uplift communities and help to unite the nation.
Just not in the UK it seems.
Perhaps UK Sport need to revisit their contract with the RYA.