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Paralympic Games: Another viewpoint to consider

Published on February 3rd, 2015

Olympic gold medalist Magnus Liljedahl launched Team Paradise in 2005, a sailing organization in Miami that gives the disabled community an opportunity to sail whether it is for personal enjoyment, or more serious training for Paralympic events. Magnus comments on the decision by the International Paralympic Committee to remove sailing as a sport at the 2020 Paralympic Games…

The Paralympic aspect of Adaptive Sailing was a major reason and a driving factor for me when establishing Team Paradise. Anything that has to do with the Olympics is what I want to do. And now it is extremely encouraging to see the huge support on social media for sailing to continue in the Paralympic Games. I encourage everyone to sign the petition for its reinstatement.

But life hands us many curveballs, and it is important to find light in a darker times, turning a negative in to a positive. Thus, I am offering another point of view to consider, which is how the removal of sailing from the Paralympic Games may be the best thing that ever happened to Adaptive Sailing.

Sailing is so much more than an Olympic podium every 4-years, especially for Adaptive Sailors. Being a Paralympic Class – 2.4mR (single), SKUD18 (double), Sonar (triple) – comes along with a lot of rules and regulations and it makes it all more expensive.

Sailors with Olympic aspirations usually have a long background of sailing and racing. They develop through the ranks of Optis, 420, 29er, etc. They fully comprehend the sport and they are very good at what they do. In contrast, many of the disabled sailors begin sailing after their injuries, at an average age that would be too old to even dream of an Olympic podium for the non-disabled sailor.

Perhaps not being a Paralympic sport will open up sailing to more disabled people. Being less regulated by disability classifications and allowing all people to participate might grow disabled sailing to new heights.

If you are disabled you must race with a disabled crew member, with no regard to the sailing knowledge of this person as long as he/she has the proper classification rating. I have learned most everything by racing with people better than myself and the disabled should have that opportunity as well. Why do we allow disabled sailors to race and beat up on able-bodied sailors when we don’t allow it the other way around?

We could have had three more triplehanded Sonar teams at the 2015 ISAF Sailing World Cup Miami, but some were not blind enough and others had more mobility than desired. These sailors were not a threat to win; they just wanted to participate and would have made the fleet much more interesting had they been allowed to race. And if they had a good teacher onboard, they could have been competitive and made everyone better.

In another instance at the 2015 ISAF Sailing World Cup Miami, we were told that our sails didn’t measure in because of a missing stamp. I do respect that, but people are missing the point. My sailors are not competing to win, but only trying to be the best that they can be. Who cares about a stamp on the sail? These sailors did not represent any threat. What difference does it make? Our sails are old and not as fast, but we have just as much fun and that’s what it ought to be. After much persuasion, the measurer finally allowed a bunch of us to use the old sails we had brought along. It was the right decision.

It’s easy to draw parallels to the Star and Dragon Class. The Star didn’t do as well immediately following it’s elimination after the 2012 Olympics, but it’s is now on the rebound and we all sense that it will get better and better. The same can be said about the Dragon. The class was hurt after the 1968 Games, but has since reached new heights and is now one of the bigger one-design keel boat classes in Europe.

Not being included in the Paralympics will open the door for those with more severe physical limitations. The only Paralympic sailing equipment suitable for a quadriplegic people today is the SKUD18. The Sonar and 2.4mR can be adapted as well, but it would be much more challenging to be competitive. But while the SKUD18 is sexy to look at, it is expensive to buy and very high on maintenance. There are other boats out there available for a fraction of the cost. They are durable, easy to adapt, and fun to sail. Let’s take advantage of that and bring more quads out sailing.

As much as I would like to see sailing remain as a sport for the Paralympic Games, I also see the new opportunities that this change would allow. Either way, we all need to continue encouraging the disabled community to go sailing. Trust me, they will thank you for it.

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