Kiwi Olympians Tangled in Flag Vote

Published on March 7th, 2016

In late 2015, New Zealanders were invited to vote on the question “If the New Zealand flag changes, which flag would you prefer?” From five alternative flag designs, one new design advanced, and now the country will be asked from March 3 to 24 if they want it for their nation’s flag.

The flag that receives the most votes will be the official flag of New Zealand. But for New Zealand’s Olympic sailors, the timing of this vote has complicated their plans for the Rio Games.


New proposed Silver Fern flag

At the Olympics the 49er, 49erFX, Men’s and Women’s 470 and the Nacra 17 are required to carry their nation’s current flag on the spinnaker. As a result, members of the sailing team had to pre-order extra sails bearing the alternative flag design to ensure each potential sail they take to Brazil has been tested and used in training.

“Sail testing is a critical part of any Olympic sailing campaign,” explains Jez Fanstone, Yachting New Zealand High Performance Director. “We want to be sure that we arrive in Rio being the best prepared we can be.”

Testing each new sail for cloth imperfections, design and cut, is always scheduled into the preparation programme and completed during routine training and competition.

“A handful of our sailors had to order their new sails during December 2015 and January 2016, at a time when we can’t be certain what New Zealand’s flag will look like come August 2016,” says Fanstone.


Current New Zealand flag

“The flag design is applied during the sail build process, so to ensure we are covering all eventualities the only thing to do has been to order two sets of sails,” Fanstone contined. “One set has the current flag; the second set has the alternative design.”

Fanstone adds, “An Olympic sailing campaign requires detailed planning and preparation which extends across boats and equipment, and the timing of the flag referendum is just one of those things that add to the complexity. It’s all about doing everything we can to be well prepared, leaving no stone unturned, and arriving into Rio with as few surprises to negotiate as possible.”

The asymmetric shape of the 49er, 49erFX and Nacra spinnakers means that each boat’s national flag is applied lengthways down the sail with the flag rotated 90 degrees to the right, while in the 470 class the flag appears on the spinnaker sail in its usual orientation.

Sailors who have pre-ordered extra sails as a result of the timing of the New Zealand flag referendum include Jo Aleh and Polly Powrie (Women’s 470), Gemma Jones and Jason Saunders (Nacra 17), Peter Burling and Blair Tuke (49er) and Alex Maloney and Molly Meech (49erFX).

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