Paul Henderson – Focus on the Heroes

Published on December 8th, 2010

By Paul Henderson, former ISAF President

popeThe big problem that Mark Reynolds touches on in his three part interview this week (Olympic Sailing – Is the Men’s Keelboat Era Over?) is that in sailing the media focus is always on the equipment and not the sailors.

The media focus in skiing is not on the skis, or in golf on the clubs, but on the personalities. In Olympic sailing, we argue whether it should be a Star or a Soling or an FD or a 49er or the format whether it be Match or Fleet racing or the courses to be windward leewards or triangles, all with some convoluted idea that we will get more TV ratings and therefore more money.

Whether a boat goes 12kts or 18 kts, or has two hulls or one… who cares? The media wants heroes and stories, and also nationalism sells.

At the 2010 Winter Games in Vancouver, the great media stories was when the Canadian snowboarder won a gold, but it was his CP brother in the stands cheering that tore our hearts out. Or the Canadian figure skating bronze medallist doing so well when her mother had just died prior to the Games.

It will shock all the sailors who focus on classes that the Star is the most followed Olympic media event. This is because the heroes who have made their name in the Finn or Laser gravitate to the Star, so the journalists already know them. By the way, the boardsailors usually end up sailing catamarans.

Thinking that we need to prostitute the sport so as to get more TV is nonsense in the utmost. We will not get more TV as there are 28 Olympic sports and only about 6 get good ratings and at least 14 get minimal. There is nothing Sailing can do to erode basketball, swimming, or athletics coverage except if a few sailors drown… and then we may get five minutes in prime time (but that would be a drastic maneuver).

Sailing gets very good internet coverage, ranking fifth as it is a niche market as are 20 of the other sports.

Focus on the personalities and pick the types of events that are for all sizes and shapes of sailors, or the Olympics will become an irrelevant Junior Regatta.

ISAF got $8 million out of Beijing, which is up from $50,000 in Montreal (1976 Games) and $2.5 million in Sydney (2000 Games). How much money does the Federation need?

Put the sailors and the integrity of the sport first and stop prostituting the game for some unattainable TV coverage. Several years ago, Rowing had an idea to get rid of the Eight event so as to get more events for the limited number of athletes involved, and therefore get more TV. The IOC and FISA said: “That is Rowing’s premier event – you got to be kidding.”

The rebuttal is that sailing will get kicked out of the Olympics which is utter nonsense. The IOC must vote 50% +1 to eliminate any sport and Sailing has always got 75% in all such votes and, by the way, the IOC President is a sailor.

(December 8, 2010)

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