Balancing Traditions and Modernization

Published on May 7th, 2018

by Craig Leweck, Scuttlebutt
As the debate ensues over the revamp of the Olympic Sailing program for Paris 2024, there are two schools of thought on achieving the outcome.

One approach is to present a program that provides opportunity for all sailors and best reflects the sport of sailing, while the other method is to shape a more diverse program that fulfills the objectives of the International Olympic Committee (IOC).

There are risks to both.

When World Sailing presented the same 10 event program for Tokyo 2020 as was used in Rio 2016, it was to support the investments made by its member nations and vested athletes. However, it did not please the IOC which reduced the athlete count from 380 to 350. If World Sailing were to do it again for Paris, the sport would be in further jeopardy.

Alternatively, the wide ranging goals of the IOC will require significant changes. Gender equality in number of athletes and medal opportunities, an increase of mixed events, and a program in which events utilize distinct formats are among the priorities. This approach may eliminate historic classes and its sailors.

This is hardly the first time for the Olympic Sailing program to be revised. There was once only keelboats in the Games, and now there are none. Gender specific classes were introduced, along with boardsailing and catamarans. But with a limited number of medals for Sailing, each new event removes a previous one.

These changes are also occurring at a time when the IOC is doing its own soul searching with considered thought on the future of the Olympic Games. And now, with the growth of social media, everything gets amplified.

The debate will reach a crescendo when decisions need to be made at World Sailing’s Mid-Year Meeting to be held May 10-15 in London, Great Britain. Each member nation of World Sailing has a voice in the discussion, with this statement coming from Matt Allen, President of Australian Sailing, and John Lee, Chief Executive of Australian Sailing.

As World Sailing revises the events program for the 2024 Paris Olympic Games, Australian Sailing (AS) wishes to reaffirm its support for policies that seek to expand and develop the sport in Australia and elsewhere.

AS believes it necessary to strike a balance between the history and traditions of our sport and the reality that we need to adapt and modernise. We recognise that sailing, as a sport and community, must remain agile and innovative if it is to retain its place in Olympic competition and avoid being marginalised. The right decisions taken now should ensure sailing has a bright and healthy future.

Consistent with these beliefs, AS supports options within submissions from Member National Authorities and others that pursue the following goals:

• Gender equality in terms of number of events and total athlete numbers competing at the Olympic Games
• An increase in the number of mixed gender events in the Olympic sailing program
• Events that display the diversity of skills, equipment, format and athletes within sailing
• Events that perpetuate the traditions of sailing
• Events that are innovative and exciting for sailors and non-sailors
• Events that require and demonstrate the tactical and technical elements required in sailing

AS’s stance is derived from recommendations within two vital documents: the IOC’s Gender Equality Report and Agenda 2020. Agenda 2020 is the roadmap for the future of the Olympic movement, a goal of which is for the Games to move from a sport-based program to an events-based program. The IOC is also focused on improving the appeal of the Olympic Games to a younger audience.

Consistent with the IOC’s gender equality recommendations for 2024, World Sailing policy requires gender equality in athlete numbers and events. This gives men and women the same number of events in which to compete, either as separate gender or mixed events. World Sailing policy also requires the number of mixed events for 2024 to increase to either two or four.

The Olympic Sailing event program does not currently meet the requirement for equal medal opportunities for men and women. The sailing community is aware that the additional men’s event is the only event that currently caters for men at the upper end of weight range and World Sailing policy also requires that different physiques are accommodated in the event program.

With these factors in mind, the World Sailing Council, on February 19, 2018, placed the following events under review:

• Men’s Windsurfer
• Women’s Windsurfer
• Men’s One Person Dinghy Heavyweight
• Men’s Two Person Dinghy
• Women’s Two Person Dinghy

The following events were retained with their current equipment for 2024 (subject to a separate anti-trust review of the single-handed equipment):

• Men’s One Person Dinghy
• Women’s One Person Dinghy
• Men’s Skiff
• Women’s Skiff
• Mixed Two Person Multihull

With no additional medals available at this stage to add events to the current 10-event program, at least one of the current events must change to meet the key requirements for the 2024 Olympic sailing program. There are a number of options that will be debated and, unfortunately, there is no single option that accommodates the interests of all stakeholders.

AS appreciates this is a highly-charged environment and we will work hard to achieve a positive result for our sailors and for the Australian sailing community.

AS, represented by myself as President and Sarah Kenny as Vice President and Chair of the World Sailing Events Committee, will participate in upcoming discussions and deliberations. It is our goal to ensure we get the right balance by achieving the goals set out above.

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