Olympic Games: The Challenge Ahead

Published on February 15th, 2018

by Craig Leweck, Scuttlebutt
It is in the best interest of Sailing’s stakeholders to have a stable program of events for the Olympic Games, but a force inevitably derails this premise and disruption follows. The internal struggle within World Sailing for what is best for the Olympic Games is now up against a more formidable force: the International Olympic Committee (IOC).

The IOC is changing the landscape of the Olympic Games by shifting from a sport-based program to an event-based program. In this new paradigm, new Olympic events have a ‘unique signature’ or ‘look and feel’ which is readily apparent to broad audiences and the media as well as those more closely connected to the sport.

This is a huge challenge for the Sailing. From the outside, we have ten events diving off the same 10m platform but wearing different bathing suits. The other significant IOC initiative is gender equity. While an equal number of men and women competing in the Games may not be consistent with participation in the sport, the IOC sees that as Sailing’s problem, not theirs.

Paving the road forward begins this year, with World Sailing finalizing the plan no later than November 2019. What is certain at this stage is how an international committee-based process will be making hard decisions, the committee members will be juggling self-interest with the IOC objectives, and ultimately there will be winners and losers.

The good news, if this is good news, is Sailing is not alone. Other sports are making adjustments too. The PyeongChang 2018 Winter Games reflects the shift with new events, as Curling now has mixed doubles and Alpine Skiing has a mixed team event with two men and two women. Evolve or be excused from the show.

World Sailing has published notes that offer insight into the task ahead. Here are the highlights:

Guidance for decisions
• 350 athletes
• 10 events
• Achieve gender equality at an event and athlete level
• Include either 2 or 4 mixed events
• Ensure that men and women of different physiques have an opportunity to compete
• Include both universal events and events that showcase the innovation of sailing and demonstrate the diversity of the sport

The need for World Sailing to have an event program in 2024 that offers the best possible value to the IOC and to the Olympic Games and strengthens the position of Sailing within the Olympic Games is of critical importance.

For the 2020 Olympic Games the IOC Executive Board focused on introducing youth and urban innovations, significantly improving gender equity and reducing the overall number of athletes.

Sailing has a key challenge to differentiate the sailing events to ensure that if and when each event is reviewed by the IOC, it stands on its own merit and can be distinguished from the other events, including by non-sailors. Sailing has concluded that the names used for our events are not helpful in this regard.

Because World Sailing did not comply with the key IOC goal of achieving gender equity at an event level for 2020, and made no change to the set of events selected, the IOC reduced the athlete quota for World Sailing from 380 athletes at Rio 2016 to 350 athletes at Tokyo 2020. The IOC has made it clear that change is required and World Sailing should ensure that it meets the IOC expectations for future Olympic Games.

If World Sailing does not propose the best possible mix of events to the IOC for the Paris 2024 Olympic Games then it should be expected that there will be a further reduction in athletes and a reduction in the number of events for sailing.

Here is some additional information:
Reviewing the 2016 Olympic Events
Event thoughts after the Rio 2016 Games
Impact of gender equity on Tokyo 2020
Decision timeline for Paris 2024 Games

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