World Sailing: All Talk or Really a World Body

Published on January 19th, 2017

by Rob Kothe
Since its creation in 1907 as the International Yacht Racing Union sailing’s peak body has been British based. One hundred ten years later, the organization now known as World Sailing has reached a fork in the road.

The official language of our Sport has been historically English, so is the administration bias since its office has always been based in England. From its inception, it was some 60 years before our representatives voted for someone who was not English as the leader of the world sailing organization.

In 1997, then called the International Sailing Federation (ISAF), the organization moved from London, where it was hosted by Royal Thames Yacht Club, to its own offices on the Town Quay seafront in Southampton, citing lower operational costs. Now 20 years later, in September 2017, the office lease for our peak body, now called World Sailing (WS) expires and a WS Board decision must be made about a new location for the Executive Offices.

But times have been achangin’.

When Italy’s Beppe Croce became the first non-British President in 1969, there were just 15 countries in the club. By the time he retired in 1986 that had increased to 89. When his son Carlo Croce left the Presidency in 2016, there were 145 countries with more than a third of those member countries being in Europe.

The newly elected eight-person board led by Dane Kim Andersen, has for only one of the few times in 110 years no British representative. Now a major statement about the sport may or may not be made.

For some years, there has been a body of opinion within the upper echelons of sailing officialdom that given the importance of Olympic sailing, that a move to Europe – specifically to Lausanne, Switzerland, the home of the International Olympic Committee – would strengthen the sports influence.

The new President has been a strong supporter of that option, but the cost of operation in Lausanne is very high – 40% higher than Southampton by some measures. To duplicate the existing WS executive office in Switzerland and retain key English born staff, a 50% increase in overall costs would seem likely.

At the first Board Meeting, post-election in December 2016, there was an examination of a range of cities against a yet undisclosed set of criteria. Lausanne and others were eliminated and the decision was made to look at just four cities: Southampton, UK; London, UK; Barcelona, Spain; and Valencia, Spain.

Given the fact that Spanish is the second most spoken language in the world (after Mandarin) and ahead of English, that cost of operation would be reduced there and the climate is certainly more appealing. Notably a block of the new Board – Scott Perry from Uruguay, Anna Sanchez from Spain, and Torben Grael (tho’ his first language is Portuguese) – is at least as comfortable in Spanish as English.

The Board has a city by city comparison in their hands, with the Spanish Mediterranean cities – Barcelona to the north, the 1992 Olympic city with high speed train access to Europe and an excellent flight hub and Valencia, the home of the 2007 and 2010 America’s Cups – with the lowest operation cost of the four, both offering some significant inducements to bring the sporting body to their locale.

While in theory, the Board was expected to decide in a telephone hook-up this week, the sheer weight of business means that the Cape Town Board Meeting at the end of February is much more likely to see a robust discussion.

Part of the discussion will be about the fact that a relocation away from Southampton would cause dislocation and loss of staff, but over time, adding the second most spoken language in the world to the World Sailing palette would be in the opinion of many be a major signal that World Sailing is in fact that – ‘World’.

What do you think?

Rob Kothe is the Founder and former Publisher and Managing Editor of the network

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