Ensuring the Future of the Sport

Published on February 11th, 2016

This commentary by Tom MacSweeney for the Irish publication Afloat.ie has stirred a lively debate about how sailing’s elitist image remains a barrier to newcomers…

It’s annual general meeting time and for most sailing clubs one of the big issues will be membership. Some readers and club members may prefer the description ‘yacht’ clubs, but ‘Sailing’ was chosen by the national association a few years ago to popularise the sport.

Many of the bigger clubs still remain YCs and there is nothing inherently wrong in that, provided that the description doesn’t keep potential newcomers away from the sport rather than encouraging them into it.

Exclusivity may be more in the eye of the beholder of clubs these days, from the outside, rather than within the clubs themselves but, whether or not you like it being mentioned, it remains an issue in some places and our sport could do without it.

I remember when as Marine Correspondent with RTE News, being abused by a rather obnoxious member of a Dun Laoghaire waterfront club who emerged from its impressive palatial-like frontage to assail the camera crew and myself who were filming the premises from the roadway and being told by him that we should not be there and should realize the club wished to have privacy from the public.

However, we were there at the express request of the club for coverage of a racing event, but this individual had decided to express his own view of the exclusiveness of sailing. While myself being involved in the sport, I could rather bluntly tell him what to do with his opinion, the camera crew were left with a bad impression of sailing.

‘Private – members only’ signage outside some clubs has been criticized, but clubs are entitled to protect their premises. There are golf clubs just the same, as are some other sporting establishments … but sailing seems to have been a particular source of criticism.

My media work has given me a access to clubs all over the country, so maybe I don’t experience what the general public does but it is reasonable to expect people to pay to become members and for the entitlement then to avail of the facilities provided. That is what a ‘club’ – a group or association of people with a common interest – is.

While I have also experienced a welcome at clubs all over the country, it cannot be denied that the sport of sailing has an unfortunate legacy in a public impression left behind by a minority of individuals who did not represent it well, because they favored exclusivity rather than inclusivity, which has to be the hallmark of the ‘sport for all … and for life’ – which sailing should be in an island nation.

There is a challenge ahead for many sailing and yacht clubs as they hold their annual meetings – and that is to maintain their base of membership, much of which is ageing, so to encourage younger members and families to become and remain members and to get newcomers to join… thus ensuring the future of the sport.

Getting members in… instead of keeping people out….

Comments to this report are posted here.

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