Why Ice Sailing is not an Olympic Sport

Published on September 26th, 2017

by Deb Whitehorse, NA IDNIYRA Secretary
On February 25, the closing ceremony of the 2018 Winter Olympics will take place in Pyeong Chang, Korea. That same day, the PRO will drop the flag for the first race of the DN World Championship somewhere in Europe.

DN sailing in the Olympics has been a controversial topic ever since the International Sailing Foundation (ISAF) approached the class over twenty years ago with the idea that iceboating would be a good fit for the Winter Games. Rumors abounded as to why ice sailing never even became an exhibition sport, the first step towards Olympic glory.

European IDNIYRA (International DN Ice Yacht Racing Association) Secretary, Chris Williams, was one of the witnesses to what transpired during the ten year period. Chris reviewed his files and provided this timeline so that the class will have a factual account of the events.


1. This story begins in 1996 with an approach from ISAF (International Sailing Federation) proposing that Ice Sailing become a Winter Olympic Sport, and this article is a summary of what happened to that proposal over the next 10 years.

2. To start exploring the proposal, ISAF set a meeting in Brighton, England, which they chaired and which included IDNIYRA representatives NA Commodore Bill Condon, Bart Reedijk (Europe Commodore), Stan Macur (Europe Member) and Chris Williams (Europe Secretary).

It was agreed that:
a. Association with ISAF would provide enhanced status and help to lead to IOC recognition.
b. IDNIYRA NA and Europe should remain in their present form.
c. IDNIYRA should be represented on the ISAF Ice Sailing Committee and, subject to ratification by ISAF Executive Committee, it would consist of Karel Bauer (ISAF Chairman), Bill Condon, Chris Williams, a representative of World Ice Sailboard Sailing Association and Peter Harken (Member at Large).
d. Because the idea of convening an Olympic ice sailing event, even for demonstration, presented considerable challenges – most of them related to weather – investigations should start as soon as possible into snow removal methods, possibilities and costs.

3. A steering committee was therefore set up In January 1997 at Bayview Yacht Club (Detroit, MI) chaired by the President of ISAF and including the NA Commodore and the DNIYRA-Europe Secretary. It concluded that:
a. A one-design class of ice yacht was essential.
b. IDNIYRA to be represented on ISAF ice Sailing Steering Committee.
c. IDNIYRA to be an ISAF Affiliate Member.
d. Contact with International Olympic Committee (IOC) to be via ISAF.
e. Chances of DN sailing as a Demonstration Sport judged to be slim.
f. Weather constraints on Ice Sailing not yet fully understood by IOC or ISAF.
g. Aim at this stage was Ice Sailing in 2006 Winter Olympics.

4. In November 1997 IDNIYRA Europe was invited to attend World Sailing conference in Goteborg, Sweden and European Commodore Bart Reedijk and the European Secretary conducted an IDNIYRA Ice Sailing Forum which was attended and well received by several nations, (including South Korea) and IDNIYRA Affiliate Membership of ISAF was confirmed. The ISAF Accounts presentation revealed that 56% of their funds come from Summer Olympics.

5. At this stage the conditions and time frames for a new sport to enter the Winter Olympics were as follows:
a. The sport must be widely practiced in 25 countries and 3 continents.
b. The sport must be recognized by the IOC.
c. The bidding cities would be announced 8 years ahead of the event.
d. A bidding city (or cities) must be persuaded to include Ice Sailing in their bid.
e. The host city would be selected 7 years before the event.

It can be seen from the above that the challenge was formidable and that the earliest Winter Olympic participation would be in 2006 or 2010.

6. In the summer of 1998 a further Ice Sailing briefing was provided by the Europe Secretary at the World Sailing conference in Barcelona, Spain. This was again well received and we were informed that Olympic boat types and specifications are not decided by the IOC, and for an Olympic ice yacht these would be decided and governed by IDNIYRA. For Winter Olympics the IOC Charter makes exceptional allowance for events to be held in countries bordering that of the host city.

7. In 1988/1999 a survey of DN sailors world-wide on Winter Olympic participation indicated overall support but there were a significant number of reservations/non-supporters, the primary concern being the future of the DN class.

8. In April 1998 John Harper (US 4379) provided a well-reasoned argument supporting DN Olympic participation for the reason that an alternative class would kill the DN. However, he regretted the whole Winter Olympic idea.

9. In October 1999 Bob Dill (US 3904) argued that great care should be taken about the impact of Winter Olympic participation on our home buildable, low cost, and wonderful fun class. The DN could just be the Olympic boat and a new ice yacht with modern design would evolve for the ice boater who sails for love of the sport.

10. In 2000 and 2003 regular meetings continued to be held with ISAF at their Southampton, England HQ, with confirmation of their strong support.

11. In February 2003 at a meeting in Plattsburg, NY between the IDNIYRA NA and IDNIYRA Europe Boards it was agreed that if the “Winter Olympic” ice yacht was to be a separate and very strict “one design” boat it would be built to specifications set by the Technical Committee with the assistance of the top sailors. It was thought that this would remove the unease associated with Winter Olympic participation.

12. However, in August 2003, ISAF informed IDNIYRA that our application to be an International Recognized class within ISAF had been rejected, and in March 2004 ISAF made it clear that they would no longer support our efforts to become a Winter Olympic sport (or discipline within the Sport of Sailing). Their decision was driven by the example of the Pentathlon (Summer Olympics) and Biathlon (Winter Olympics) which had been encouraged to split from one Federation into two separate Federations, because the IOC do not favor any one international Federation taking part in both Summer and Winter Olympics.

This was a considerable setback and put an end to any support from ISAF. Instead, we were advised to establish our own International Federation through the General Association of International Sports Federations (GAISF), headquartered in Monaco, but after full investigation this way forward was rejected on the grounds of the very considerable cost of annual membership (several thousand dollars).

13. In 2006 the announcement of the death of our Winter Olympic ambitions was made at the IDNIYRA Europe National Secretaries Meeting in Vienna. Perhaps you are not surprised to learn that all present greeted the news with a standing ovation!

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