Star Class Pondering Olympic Love Affair

Published on August 8th, 2016

Beginning in 1932, the Star Class event at the Olympic Games had attracted some of the biggest names in the sport. But that all ended for the Class after the 2012 Games with a philosophical shift by authorities away from keelboats and towards high performance events to attract younger athletes.

These were tough times for a Class with an identity so intertwined with the Games, but by all appearances this appeared to be the new reality. In this report by Tom Londrigan, Class Vice President of the Western Hemisphere, he reviews how the Olympic landscape is shifting again and how that might impact the Class.

In November 2016, the World Sailing Council and Committees will review the 2016 Olympic Sailing Competition and provide feedback on possible changes to the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo, Japan.

In February 2017, a special World Sailing Council meeting will be convened to decide on the final proposal to be made to the International Olympic Committee (IOC). The IOC Executive Board will then make the final decision in June 2017. World Sailing has already approved the changes to their regulations to allow for a potential change and World Sailing has already approved the procedure for reviewing any proposed changes.

World Sailing’s has taken these measures in reaction to IOC’s new ‘Agenda 2020’. Agenda 2020 provides a new strategic road map for the Olympic movement under the main headings of sustainability, credibility and youth. The IOC’s approach to future Olympic Games includes moving from a ‘Sport-based’ to an ‘Event-based’ model, a clear target of achieving 50/50 gender equality at the Tokyo 2020 Games and a framework of a total number of approximately 10,500 athletes and approximately 310 events in the overall Olympic events.

The move to an Event-based model through Olympic Agenda 2020 also highlights the flexibility for the IOC to consider the event programmes proposed by each International Federation while reflecting innovations in the respective sports.

The Rio Games will have ten events in six different classes of boats:
• One Person Dinghy – Men (Laser)
• One Person Dinghy – Women (Laser radial)
• Two Person Dinghy – Men (470)
• Two Person Dinghy – Women (470)
• Two Person Skiff – Men (49er)
• Two Person Skiff – Women (49erFx)
• One Person Dinghy Heavy – Men (Finn)
• Windsurfing- Men (RS:X)
• Windsurfing- Women (RS:X)
• Multi-hull – Mixed (Nacra 17)

In light of the IOC’s 2020 Agenda, sailing appears to comply with the Event-based objective and the youth target but has not yet reached its goal of gender equality. Currently, a complete Olympic sailing team would be comprised of 8 men and 7 women. World Sailings deliberations this year raise significant questions for our Class.

1) Should keelboats be in the Olympics? I think we all agree that one design Keelboat racing is the pinnacle of yacht racing and draws out the best talent in our sport. Exclusion of one design keelboats ignores our best sailing talent and is not reflective of the pinnacle of our sport. 2012 Olympic sailing best illustrated this point. The Star racing reflected the top talent in the sport of sailing, to finish last in London was an honor. It could be argued that our last place finisher would have fared quite well in many of the other events. We should step forward and advocate including one design keelboat racing in the Olympics. Including a two man keelboat and a three woman keelboat would achieve the goal of gender equality and reflect the wide range of sailing talent and events that comprise our great sport.

2) Should the Star be included in the Olympics? Pride compels us to say “yes”. Practicality suggests that the Star is one of the few options for keelboats as it is a two person team and keeps the numbers of athletes manageable. A new Class for 2020 seems improbable. Our current champions are at the top of the sport of sailing and we have enjoyed a long history in the Olympics. However, a return to the Olympics should turn on what is best for our Class.

3) Is inclusion in the Olympics good for the Star Class? This is the most important question. Historically, Olympics Classes have failed to maintain membership and have died on the vine, the Star Class excluded. The Star has historically been an exception to this trend until the last 12 years 2000-2012. During those years, the cost of the boat (or even the perception of the cost of the boat) and ability to compete with heavily funded
Olympic programs has hurt membership. We lost possibly 50% of our membership. Is this due to the Olympics? This is a valid debate. In my opinion, these last few years have seen our Class thrive. Our Worlds and Continental events have been strong and the competition more balanced. Our fleet and district activity however is doing poorly.

Local participation may only be a problem for the USA and Canada; I defer to others in Europe and South America as to their opinion of local participation. The Star Sailors League has been a great help for our profile, tough mainly in Europe. Is returning to the Olympics like dating your ex-wife? Our Olympic hangover seems to be over, so now do we go back and date our ex-wife and find ourselves four years later having to start over again but with less boats and sailors?

4) What is the opinion of our membership? Again, I can’t speak for the rest of the world, but I have only encountered a few sailors in the USA or Canada that are excited about the prospect of returning to the Olympics. However, if South America and Europe feels strongly about returning, I don’t think the North American sentiment should rule the day. We have seen growth in South America and Europe and if our membership demands inclusion in the Olympics, then we should listen. One final note on this front, if another keelboat class is trying to be included in the Olympics and that Class would compete for our members, we probably have no choice but to seek inclusion to the Olympics or we may suffer a decline in our membership.

5) Should the International Star Class actively pursue inclusion, what message are we sending to members merely by seeking inclusion? This turns upon our members’ opinion. If membership feels we should try to get back in then we must put forth the effort. Win or lose, it will be okay, but if we don’t try it would be a disservice to our members. If membership is opposed, then I feel we should walk away and not engage the World Sailing Council other than promoting the inclusion of keelboats; move with confidence, let the Class know, one way or the other.

Source: International Star Class Association

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