Carlo Croce Defends World Sailing Presidency
Published on November 11th, 2016
The all-important four yearly vote for World Sailing Presidential and Board positions will linger to the final day of this year’s Annual Conference in Barcelona on Spain’s north east Med. As the international delegates proceed through the full schedule from November 5 to 13, Scuttlebutt correspondent Rob Kothe is tracking the elements that will determine the keeper of the top job. Here’s Rob’s report on November 11.
The trenchant criticism about the quality of decision making with the World Sailing body now stretches back over more than a decade and the responsibility for the current systems and processes must be shared by the President’s past and present.
The Olympic Committee report in 2009 said, as politely as possible, that decisions 180 degrees from agreed policy regularly came from the current system. Probably the most spectacular of these was when the fastest boat, the multihull, was dropped for the London 2012 Olympics, but reversed ahead of Rio 2016.Another such decision this time from incumbent President Carlo Croce and his current executive, regarding a change to the Sailing Events for Tokyo 2020, has been reversed under the pressure of a looming election, with 1000 international delegates in the Barcelona 2016 conference watching in bemusement.
One observer in Spain today said today “Any keel boat tactician would be forced to walk the plank, if they made a call for a major shift in 2020 Olympic classes which would not to be confirmed until mid-year 2017. It was an impractical decision and provided no confidence in the current leadership.”
So with yesterday’s announcement, it was with a sense of great relief that the sailing world saw the World Sailing Yacht backing her main and jib, so that the large lump of weed would float of the keel.
A major setback for Croce’s presidency was the long delay in finding a replacement for Jerome Pels, and the failure of Peter Sowrey as the initial replacement, which then set back many of Croce’s plans.
I interviewed Sowrey on his first week in office and realised in the fourth minute of the interview he was no diplomat. Sowrey was a crash or crash through agent for change who was very unlikely to be able to work in the complex World Sailing environment.
I remained puzzled why Croce and his team had not picked up on the same issue, but five months later Sowrey was gone.
Moving forward, as the vote approaches on Sunday (Nov 13), the Presidential Candidates are becoming more plain speak.Said Presidential contender Kim Andersen (DEN), “We need a leader who is committed to putting into place a truly open and transparent governance structure and decision-making process. This would not only help foster a close relationship with all of you (the MNA’s), but also give a clear overview of why we make the decisions we make.
“We need a leader who can make responsible and accountable decisions for our sport and for our finances. This means being proactive in plans that affect our sport; the topic of changing the Olympic slate has left our MNAs, our coaches, and especially our athletes in a state of uncertainty about classes assignments and equipment requirements just months before qualifications.
“While a recent decision has now clarified plans for 2020, the timing of this announcement at least allows for the next World Sailing President to focus on future sporting matters, but the chaos caused within the sailing family in recent months was unnecessary.
“Moreover, we need a leader that is open and transparent about World Sailing’s financials and governance procedures in the lead up to 2020 and beyond. This will not only help you (MNAs) and your future planning, but will also open World Sailing up to new commercial opportunities and partnerships, further benefiting our sport worldwide.”
Obviously stung by that criticism, the incumbent Carlo Croce made his opening address at the Council first session on Friday morning (Nov 11), as an obviously heartfelt defence of his leadership.
Croce started by explaining that it is a challenge to the right balance between President, the volunteer Board and full time CEO. He was then expansive on his praise for the newly appointed CEO Andy Hunt.
While defending the World Sailing performance leading up to Rio, Croce, speaking without notes, admitted he was distracted for much of the lead up to the Olympic Games, with family issues and then explained how he was not able to attend the Paralympics because of his own illness.
He then gave a long explanation on the history of the Gazprom sponsorship, explaining that the criticism of the sponsorship was personally hurtful for him.
He then moved to the history of the 2016 and 2020 lock on Olympic classes, intended to provide stability, but then unlocked for 2020 due to IOC pressure, and then this week’s reversal to lock again as the IOC appears to have shifted its position.
So the ten classes in Rio are unchanged for Tokyo, plus the gain of a demonstration (showcase) event and the interesting possibility of gaining an extra medal or two.
This would involve a reduced number of competitors in some classes and the possibility of sailors competing for multiple medals for example double handed offshore event on supplied boats.
Croce finalised with a plea for the opportunity to finish his agenda and remain President; he said the sport needs stability, not a change in leadership,
He said, “After four years I can now reflect on what it takes to be president of this wonderful sport. You need ambition but you also need pragmatism and patience, patience, patience. It is perhaps the most complicated of all sports with so many classes, considerations, technology and of course always operating in an unstable natural environment. That all means that we need to be very careful how we manage the sport. Change should be evolutional. Evolutionary and (rarely) revolutionary.”
As the Council meetings continue, the backroom discussions between Presidential and Board candidates continue around the sessions.
The feedback currently suggests that there is growing mood for a major change.Seeking to be that change is Paul Henderson (CAN) and Andersen. The favoured candidate is the Dane who responded after hearing Croce’s speech today.
“There has not been adequate discussion and transparency within WS of the Gazprom sponsorship.
“In January 2015 World Sailing announced the Gazprom sponsorship. Since then MNAs have been raising questions. However, when you search the World Sailing website for Gazprom, you only find little information on the sponsorship. MNAs cannot find information about the spending of the sponsorship and the World Sailing obligations to Gazprom.
“Recently, in October 2016 World Sailing distributed a Q&A about the situation.
“It seems that Gazprom wants to support the development of sailing, which is great. We need the support. But all sponsorships involve obligations. World Sailing has missed the opportunity to involve MNAs in this matter.
“When member national authorities ask questions about the operations of World Sailing it is the responsibility of World Sailing to listen and to give clear and open answers. Questions may be curious, critical and at times seemingly annoying, but we must recognize them and respond in a clear way. That is what true dialogue is.”
This scribe spoke briefly to President Croce tonight and will be discussing more of the key issues with him early tomorrow morning including Andersen’s comments.
Rob Kothe is the Founder and former Publisher and Managing Editor of the Sail-World.com network
About World Sailing’s Annual Conference
World Sailing’s Annual Conference brings together international delegates every first full week of November. It is the central meeting point where the strategy of sailing is reviewed, discussed and celebrated. Over the Annual Conference, participants plan for the future, make key decisions to drive the sport forward, share best practice and generate new ideas. The 2016 Annual Conference will be held in Barcelona, Spain at the Hotel Renaissance Barcelona Fira on November 5-13.