Retooling the Sailing Events at the Olympic Games

Published on September 27th, 2016

Before Mark Turner was appointed Volvo Ocean Race CEO in March, he had the well-earned reputation as one of the most respected figures in professional sailing, much of it from 23 years at the helm of global sports marketing company, OC Sport.

With the International Olympic Committee encouraging World Sailing to revise its slate of Sailing events for the 2020 Olympics, and World Sailing now on the clock to make this decision by February 2017, Mark shares his thoughts on how to do it.


Mark Turner

Someone asked me recently to share the presentation or ideas I’d worked on back in 2013 for ISAF and President Carlo Croce (now World Sailing) on how to develop the dinghy/Olympic sailing world to take it up a level.

I had made a promise to Carlo that I’d help him try to take things forward if he became President of sailing’s ‘governing’ body. Indeed the risks were super high to invest in rescuing the Sailing World Cup concept that was (and is still) struggling to exist at a high enough level.

While I have no idea if my ideas would really work or not, but I thought I’d share the presentation that I worked an all-nighter on after a week of listening to all the MNA’s, Classes and sailors at the ISAF Annual Conference held November 2013 in Muscat, Oman.

The presentation was a toned down version of what I wanted to propose as it seemed everyone was too scared of change. But I never gave the presentation, as just half an hour before I was due to speak, the ISAF Executive Committee – for a reason I was never given directly or openly – decided to pull me. I was still on the big projector screen Agenda even when the session started!

Anyway, I am going to publish the presentation that never saw the light of day, with my speaker notes – no time at present to make it look pretty…but here it is.

And here is my one minute suggestion, if anyone cares, about what could be the game-changer for sailing in the Olympics (and maybe with a big positive impact on the whole sport). Not enough time in my busy Volvo Ocean Race days to write a long piece explaining all my thinking and logic, and of course there are always hurdles to overcome with positive change.

I have to say my ideas haven’t changed much in two years so I guess I’m pretty keen still on this direction. And I see some of those ideas are starting to be talked about too. All good news, there is hope! So combine boosting Sailing World Cup properly (and make it count to get Olympic slots), and change the Olympic classes to the following for 2020… it’s not too late. My Lausanne neighbor and occasional acquaintance Mr Dubi at the IOC – I am sure – will agree with a chunk of this…

I’ve no axe to grind, and no vote to place, and equally make no judgement on Carlo’s reign as president – he certainly has had the right ambition – but maybe not been backed up by a progressive enough Executive Council. I hope that whoever gets voted in, along with the support of the existing CEO and his new team which seem to be sensible chaps, can actually make some significant change work for the first time.

So in brief, here’s my Olympic proposal, viewed from a much wider place in sailing than dinghy sailing, which is traditionally the slice of sailing that the Olympics has covered (from a much much wider sport):
1. Keep the Laser for men and Laser Radial for women. This events deal with accessibility to the sport on global low cost basis, but then stop worrying about that point and blow the world away with what this amazing sport has to offer.

2. Add a class/event that is made for Television and demonstrates the incredible teamwork aspect of sailing – 4 person catamaran, foiling, stadium sailing mode – 2 or 3 men and 2 women on a GC32/M32/Extreme30/Diam24 type boat.

TV will love it. Have it be short course fleet racing, Extreme Sailing Series style with 8 races a day for 3 days and a winner at the end. Lots of races, as we learnt with ESS (but others haven’t), means that Stadium format or fluky winds aren’t an issue because you do enough races that the best always come to the top. This doesn’t work if you do just 3 or 4 races.

No need to reinvent, just use all the learnings of 10 years of Extreme Sailing Series. Put teamwork at the fore. Mixed/diversity, can’t beat it. Provided as One Design, using an existing circuit boat, this does not blow budgets away, it marries the pro-circuits with the Olympics (which is professional as we all know these days in virtually all other sports), and uses the funds in those other parts of sailing.

By adding an event that is made for TV, it also takes the pressure of some of the other classes in terms of trying to fit their product and format preference (e.g. longer courses, further offshore, few races in better wind, etc).

3. Add Offshore sailing in keelboats (real ones) in single-handed mode, mixed (ie no need to have male and female; in this format it’s about as equal footing as it gets). Am certain Beneteau would invest with the next Figaro 3 32ish foot boat if it could be the boat as an example (and owners would offer up their boats to their national hopefuls).

A 400 mile offshore course would deliver 24/7 action for 3 days like no other sport can do, works across time zones, live feeds and audio, tracking…we all know how to bring this alive. It’s the10km swim for sailing, the marathon, but soooo much better for TV- and tests the ultimate skills.

Could consider a 2 or 4 up version, but think it’s getting us in to number of athlete problems which are limited. Also great for host country – TV images along their coastline…like no other sport can do. And it’s a breeding ground and stepping stone for these sailors to go on to the sport’s pinnacle pro events like the Volvo.

4. Maybe keep the 49er/49erFX as performance monohull…the step up from the Laser.

5. I guess keep Windsurfing or Kitesurfing, I’m not qualified to speak too much about them.
And we’re done. TV happy and public wowed by both Stadium sailing and the toughness of offshore, best diversity platform in Olympic sport (mixed events), preserves accessibility for all nations to the Olympics, showcases our great values of teamwork, creates heroes, creates pathways in and out (ie pre- and post- Olympics) for the athletes.

All together we get to show the spectrum of the sport, gives World Sailing some kind of new and currently non-existing legitimacy for first time across the whole sport rather than just the dinghy world, and links non-Olympic pros and the Olympic pros circuits and funding models (very importantly for all the athletes).

Enjoy, disagree, ignore, I’m not fussed…just needed to get it out of my brain to free some space on the very full hard drive!

Editor’s note: Prior to the IOC directive, World Sailing had planned on having the same 10 events at the 2016 and 2020 Games. Here was the slate of Sailing events at the Rio 2016 Olympics…

Men’s sailboard – RS:X
Men’s single person dinghy – Laser
Men’s heavyweight dinghy – Finn
Men’s two person dinghy – 470
Men’s two person skiff – 49er
Women’s sailboard – RS:X
Women’s single person dinghy – Laser Radial
Women’s two person dinghy – 470
Women’s two person skiff – 49er FX
Mixed multihull – Nacra 17

For an interview with Carlo Croce on this topic at the Rio Olympics… click here.

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