Andy Hunt: New Helm to Steer World Sailing

Published on January 12th, 2016

World Sailing announced this week the appointment of Andy Hunt (GBR) as its new Chief Executive Officer. Hunt, with both a business and sport background, joins the world governing body for the sport which has been without steady leadership for nearly 15 months.

Hunt replaces Peter Sowrey (GBR) who held the CEO position for just five months in 2015 (July 1- Dec 2) before he resigned. Prior to Sowrey, Jerome Pels (NED) held the position for more than 17 years before his resignation was announced on October 23, 2014.

Scuttlebutt editor Craig Leweck spoke to Hunt on January 11, his first day on the job…

Why did you want this job?
Well, in truth actually, the timing was perfect for me. Having spent about 20 years in business and five years in running the British Olympic Association Team GB, and then the last couple of years back into business again, I wanted to be back in sports full-time.

I’m a passionate sailor. I’m passionate about sports, and I really can see the potential for World Sailing and for the sport of sailing. It’s one of those sports when I used to look around arenas during my Olympic job and just say, “You know what? There is such potential here.”

The position has had a turnover recently. Any apprehension as a result of those incidents?

I think it has been a challenging period for the organization and I don’t think anyone here would deny that. It has been difficult. But over my career, I’ve joined organisations at all kinds of unusual stages. Not least the British Olympic Association was in a similar phase when I joined in 2008.

So no, I’m not put off by that. There’s a group of fantastic, committed people here, and I’ve been really impressed with all my interactions so far, with the executive committee of World Sailing. Everyone I’ve touched so far, they love the sport, they want to see it develop and succeed, and they want their vision to be realised. And if I can play a part in doing that, that’s exactly what I’d love to do.

What has your involvement been with World Sailing, and I more so its predecessor ISAF, prior to this engagement?
Not significant, only awareness from being within the sports market for a number of years, observing from the outside.

Certainly you have a network of people are familiar with the organisation. What kind of counsel have you received?
My phones have a lot of messages and a lot of voice mails, but haven’t had a chance yet to get caught with them. I’m sure there are many opinions, as there always are, about what could be done differently and what can change. I don’t think anyone would say that that isn’t the case.

But that, as I go back to before, was one of the great attractions for me. There’s such a potential – such untapped potential here – to make the sport great for everyone involved in sailing, and building upon some really good work that’s been done over the last few years.

I would presume, given the turnover of the position, the organization was eager to get this hire right. Another misstep would be highly embarrassing. Can you share details of the process?
I think it was fast and thorough, over the past three weeks, with a lot of referencing from within the Olympic movement, from within organisations such as ASOIF (Association of Summer Olympic International Federations). It was important to know that somebody was coming in that had both the experience of being a sports administrator, but had the buy-in of the IOC and some of the other bodies and stakeholders of World Sailing. And that I think was an important factor.

It was a very thorough process with all of the executive committee members. In fact I probably had a final panel of every executive committee member, which is pretty unusual. Just that they were absolutely aligned around any decision they took.

What does the CEO do?
What does the CEO do? Good question. The organisation needs leadership. There are very capable people here, whether they’re within the technical or event teams or media or indeed any of the other elements of the organisation.

But the reality is that it needs leadership and it needs to pull everybody together and make sure we’re heading in the right direction, and it needs– there are things that need to be changed over time. No doubt about that. And part of my job will be working with the president, the executive committee, to continue to evolve and develop the organisation in line with the vision that was set out four years ago.

Simply stated, it would appear that World Sailing has a volunteer governance that dictates a lot of the policy and then you’re charged with executing it. Correct?
That’s correct. It’s probably got more volunteers, compared to a number of international federations. It probably has a higher dependency on input from volunteers because of the sheer number of committees and involvement across the sport. And that is highly unusual. But again, there’s work being done on the constitution going forward on that point.

How many people are among the World Sailing staff?
I think we’re currently at around 25.

You mentioned earlier about seeing potential in the organization. Anything specific?
I think one of the big opportunities in that, was some of that work which has already really kicked off with the rebranding to World Sailing. Also, the work that’s being done on content – program content – and the opportunity to obviously bring more commercial revenue to the organisation over the coming years.

So that’s something which I will be emphasising. And from the executive committee perspective, that’s incredibly important. When I talked about some of the untapped potential, some of that comes out of the commerciality of the organisation, and leveraging that opportunity.

With regard to that, is there an interest to say, not leave money on the table, or does the motivation come from becoming less reliant on the IOC funding?
I think every international federation wants to have a number of income sources, and of course the income from the IOC is very important. But yes, of course you want to diversify income and make sure that we’ve got a good stream of commercial income going forward, no question.

The organisation is saddled with two very public and embarrassing situations. The first is the upcoming Olympics, specifically the pollution in the sailing venue. How responsible is World Sailing for that situation?
What I can say is this. I haven’t had the opportunity yet, as you can imagine after just a few hours on the job, to be fully briefed on all the work – extensive work – that’s been undertaken by World Sailing, by the organising committee, by the IOC, in partnership with all the other experts on the matter of the sailing venue and pollution. I’ve fully observed that from the outside, and I have been reassured that the work that’s been done is extensive. The safety of sailors is paramount to everybody, and we will do everything in our power to play our part in that.

I’ll be going down to Rio in a few weeks, and I’ll be spending time myself, being taken through the detailed plans and will want to get myself satisfied with what we’re doing, and just seeing if there’s anything else that could be done. The Test Event this year was successful as you know, and the feedback from athletes was positive.

Is it fair for people to hold World Sailing accountable for situations like this?
Well, the organising committee is of course responsible for the venue. It’s up to us to ensure that we continue to apply the pressure and for them to meet the commitments that have been requested. And I think some of those commitments are due in February, and as I say, I’ll be down there myself to see firsthand.

I mentioned two public embarrassments. The other one is the Youth Sailing World Championship in Malaysia. How responsible is World Sailing that the situation resulted in the Israeli team not competing?
Look, it’s an unfortunate – really unfortunate – incident at the Youth Worlds. Again, I come into this at the 11th hour and 59th minute, and over the last couple of days I’ve been bringing myself up to speed, and I did attend the executive committee on Friday, where this matter was discussed.

I do think that we’re very serious about making sure that the obligations of a host nation for a regatta, and then the national authority, are absolutely clear in respect of our policy on discrimination and non-discrimination. And we will be setting out very soon what the sanctions will be for any MNA that doesn’t comply with the policy that we’ve set out.

Largely it is implicit at the moment. So what we’re doing is really re-emphasising what the policy is on non-discrimination, and we’ll be very clear about what the potential sanctions are. And that will apply obviously to events going forward. It’s not a retrospective thing. It’s applied to events going forward.

I don’t think the sport can truly move forward until we get full disclosure on what occurred. Can we anticipate that kind of transparency?
If you look for an attribute about this organisation is that I’d love us to be seen as very much an open, transparent organization. That’s absolutely the way I believe this organisation does operate with massive integrity, and that’s why we’re happy to publish that timeline of what occurred in regard to the Youth Sailing Worlds. And I think it would then become clear factually of what went on, and why some of the matters occurred. And like all of these incidents, it’s not the fault of one person or one organisation in particular. There are a multiplicity of factors that combined. However, it’s unfortunate and unacceptable that the Israeli sailors were unable to compete.
Editor’s note: Scuttlebutt received this update from Malcolm Page of World Sailing: “The report was completed January 11, but with the decisions and changes that the World Sailing Executive and Council has decided on, it will set a precedent within all sports. So to ensure that the correct procedure is followed, the report has been forwarded to the Association of Summer Olympic International Federations and the International Olympic Committee for their consideration. As soon as we have their opinion and guidance on the report it will be finalised and made available. The importance of getting this right is paramount so that these situations in sport have every chance to not happen again. Sailing has the opportunity to be leaders in this area.”

Is there an initiative or conversation within World Sailing, within the executive, that the governing process of the organisation needs to evolve?
Again, it’s a little bit early for me to be able to broadly answer that question for you. I know that everybody realises that there needs over time to be some evolving of the governance process and simplification. And that’s something I’m sure when we move to the next executive committee, and indeed rolling on towards the annual conference this year, maybe something which is further debated. But it’s a little bit early for me to give you a clear view on that.

Governing the world of sailing, as is the task of World Sailing, is a massive undertaking. Is it too massive?
The true nature of your remit and what you can do, and the resources you have make it impossible to satisfy every stakeholder’s wishes. And therefore you do tend to become the target of a lot of blame for things, perhaps which aren’t necessarily possible for you to fix. But I’m going to make it my mission to ensure that we build really strong relationships with our member nation associations, with the stakeholders, the class associations, with the IOC, with IPC, and everybody involved in sailing. I want us to have strong relationships.

I really do want us to become an international federation that is recognised for some best practice. And that won’t happen overnight, but reflectively in a few years we look back, I’d love us to be seen as a role model in some areas that we’re working in. Whether that’s commercially, whether that’s governance, whether that’s our relationship with our stakeholders, that is my real hope. And that will be a measure of success for me.

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