A NEW PHILOSOPHY IS NEEDED
Published on August 18th, 2012
Ben Barger, who was the U.S. windsurfing representative at the 2008 Olympics, is now focused on supporting all Olympic sailors. He is the ISAF Athletes Commission Chairman, and also an alternate to the USOC Athletes Advisory Council. Here Ben shares his view on some problems within the US Sailing Team.
There have been two philosophical bullet points that have guided the US Sailing Team:
– Development of sailors, not specialists. Olympic events change, and while investing funds to specialize in an event would appear wise, it is a gamble the team cannot afford to make.
– Funding is performance based. Sailors must invest in themselves before the team can invest in them.
However, both these points have adversely affected the team. Let me explain:
The United States is among the most influential countries when it comes to the choice of events at the Olympics. When the multihull was eliminated for the 2012 Olympics, and windsurfing was eliminated for the 2016 Olympics, the U.S. was a leader in making those changes. Not only has these changes cost US Sailing the support of sailors in those classes, but changing events to better suit the perceived U.S. strength is also a gamble. Rather than gambling on change, the U.S. should focus on making a long term investment in the events and its athletes.
I agree that the general U.S. policy for athlete funding should always be performance based. However, no funding, as was the case with the windsurfing event, is not ever the right amount. There should be a minimum that each event gets to sustain the basic needs of campaigning, whether that event is at a development stage, has future medal hopes, or is an immediate medal prospect. The U.S. has made a system based on this quad medal hopes only and treated everyone else like a distraction.
The running costs for a medalist program from my experience with other federations is around 500K per class per year and that’s not just going to one team but a large team of national competing members. We should have won at least three medals with the US Sailing Team budget ($4 million), but instead we bought coach boats, supported 10 staff members full time and funded a few people in a few classes. We got unlucky in those few classes in London.
The U.S. coaches and staff are paid significantly more what than their European counterparts, in some cases twice as much. Some people think they deserved it, but I believe more money needs to get to the sailors. Only 16% of total US Sailing Team money actually gets to athletes pockets. A crying shame.