On a Paralympic Sailing Mission
Published on September 12th, 2016
Italy’s Massimo Dighe is in familiar surroundings at the Rio 2016 Paralympic Sailing Competition. He’s among friends and can see the usual hustle and bustle of 2.4s, SKUD18’s and Sonar’s being craned into a marina.
He attends the team leader meetings, speaks to friends about the weather conditions for the day and turns up to equipment inspection. All very usual for Dighe, who went through the process four years ago at London 2012 as a Paralympic athlete and member of the Italian Sonar team.
Only this time, at Rio 2016, Dighe is sat on the other side of the fence, working as Para World Sailing Manager for World Sailing, the governing body of the sport.
Having retired from competitive Paralympic sailing in 2013, Dighe has made the transition from successful sailor to a sporting administrator. Embedded within World Sailing, Dighe ensures the needs and requirements of the 80 Paralympic sailors, coaches, officials and volunteers are met in Rio de Janeiro.
Over the coming days, Dighe will continue to oversee key areas of the Rio 2016 Paralympic Sailing Competition but after sailing was removed from the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic program, Dighe’s plans extend well beyond Rio.
“The plan is to get sailing back into the program of events for the 2024 Paralympic Games,” explained Dighe. “It’s important for us that nations continue supporting the sailors as we need a number of nations with sailors regularly participating in the sport. We need to make a great proposal to the International Paralympic Committee and we need to strengthen our sport.”
Dighe became involved in sports administration during his time sailing the Sonar competitively. He acted as team leader for his three-man team and played a key role in the Italian Sailing Federation. Dighe was responsible for promoting Paralympic sailing within Italy and the rewards are evident with three competitive Italian teams at Rio 2016.
From there, Dighe became a member of the Para World Sailing Committee in 2015 and one-year later, after stepping down from the Committee, was offered the role of Para World Sailing Manager.
Dighe is responsible for managing and building key relationships within World Sailing and the International Paralympic Committee, integrating Para World Sailing into the Sailing World Cup and supporting the development of the sport from development programs and race officials.
Just two months into the role, Dighe has a clear vision, “The plan is to increase the development through World Sailing Paralympic Develop Program, much like the Youth Worlds Emerging Nations Program.
He continued, “One of the other plans is to revise the equipment because we need equipment that is cheaper, has less logistical problems and can expand sailing’s reach. We are working with the sailors to increase participation, lower the age of participation and reach more nations. We have continents such as Africa and South America with low participation so we need to create programs like the PDP to achieve our targets.”
Sailing is a unique Paralympic sport. Severely disabled athletes compete on a level playing with those more able-bodied. The boats are measured, weighed and inspected to so that they stay within a defined set of rules, ensuring fairness and equality, and each boat is adapted to suit each type of disability.
Dighe was born with cerebal palsy and took to sailing in 2006, immediately falling in love with the sport. To adapt the Sonar to suit his requirements, Dighe added a roll bar but when he’s sailing, disabilities are put aside.
“When you sail you are not a disabled sailor. You are a sailor. Sailing has helped a lot of people and it has helped me to. It gives you independence,” he expressed with a smile on his face
“Sailing is very inclusive sport. A lot of our sailors race against able bodied sailors so for me it’s really important to help young guys, nations and anyone who wants to join the sport. Sailing helped me and a lot of other sailors here [Rio 2016] and we have a responsibility to help young people and emerging nations to give possibilities to young guys and girls to try sailing.”
Dighe started to campaign for Rio 2016 in the SKUD18, sailing at the 2013 European Championships, but found in his own words that he could, “help, unify and work in synergy with the sailors and administrators.”
Nonetheless, once a sailor, always a sailor as he takes a glimpse of the water, remiscining. He concluded, “Sometimes I’m sad because this is the first time I am on the other side of the wall. I see my friends going out sailing but it’s normal, it’s life.
“Now I think I can help more being on this side and I’m happy to be here.”
The Rio 2016 Paralympic Games takes place on September 7-18 with the Sailing events on September 12-17 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Competition will be held in three events: 2.4 Norlin OD (singlehanded), SKUD18 (doublehanded), and Sonar (triplehanded). When five or more races have been completed, a boat’s series score will be the total of her race scores excluding her worst score. Eleven races are planned for each event.
For additional details on how to follow the racing…click here.
Source: Daniel Smith – World Sailing