IRISH DEBATE: To keep sailing strong

Published on March 14th, 2013

Interesting to see what is occurring in Ireland, and what can be learned and applied in North America. As reported in the Irish publication Afloat…
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Roger Bannon has a lot to say about the state of Irish sailing. The former president of the Irish Sailing Association (ISA) – and a dinghy and sportsboat champion in his own right – used his term in office two decades ago to secure the position and financial viability of the association as a national sporting authority by making every member of a sailing club in Ireland also a member of the ISA.

It was a bravo move that unified Ireland’s sailing clubs into a stronger whole fit to nurture the talent necessary to challenge the world at the top levels of sailing. But in more recent times that fitness has been called into question, and Bannon is among those hitting out at an authority that has arguably lost its relevance to all bar those at the most elite levels in the sport.

“The ISA has lost its way over the last few years,” he says, giving his view of a bureaucracy “detached from the reality of what is going on in the front line”.

Resulting from the reforms he spearheaded in the early 1990s, the ISA became “a creature of the clubs”, but he believes that the clubs have now “lost control as the professional team in the ISA grew and began to exercise increasing influence on key decisions”.

Things came to a head before the recent ISA AGM, where a motion was tabled to ‘shake up’ ISA policy to stem the decline of dinghy sailing in Ireland. Bannon is among many in the sport – regatta organizers, commodores, champions and racers alike – who credit the decline of dinghies and one-design sailing with the national body’s disproportionate emphasis on the Olympic classes. But they’re not the only ones in the cross hairs.

“The clubs have also a lot to answer for in this respect,” he says. “They were all mesmerized by the easy money of the Celtic Tiger era and lost sight of the value-for-money issues as well as the primary responsibility to look after their members’ sailing interests.”

Bannon posits the “major disruption” cause by the hosting of “too many ‘status’ events”, and what he sees as the unjustifiably high costs of access to club facilities, as significant factors in the decline of classes such as the SB20 in Dun Laoghaire alone.

And there is “another elephant in the room”, he says, referring to the financial struggles among even the biggest of Ireland’s sailing clubs, many of which have been cutting fees – some even doing away with them altogether – in an attempt to attract new, younger members.

“Most clubs have worryingly aging membership profiles which leads to less sailing activity, particularly racing,” says Bannon. “This is a disturbing spiral accentuated by the fact that we are also losing nearly all the juniors who we train at great expense because our sailing curriculum is not focused on generating a lifetime love for or a competence in the sport.” – AfloatMagazine, read on
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COMMENT: Interesting observation about how junior training is not focused on generating a lifetime love of sailing. I’m sure this does not apply to every club, but every club member should inquire as to the true purpose of their club junior program, as it is likely their funds are supporting it. – Craig Leweck, Scuttlebutt

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