Sailing and the Olympic Games

Published on October 24th, 2018

The World Sailing Annual Conference, the biggest gathering of the world governing body for the sport of sailing, comes to the USA in 2018 to hold its meetings on October 27 to November 4 in Sarasota, Florida.

In advance of the 2018 meeting, Scuttlebutt editor Craig Leweck spoke with World Sailing President Kim Andersen on a number of topics to be discussed in Sarasota. Here’s Part 4 of this five part series:


Sailing in the Olympics once utilized equipment that was prevalent in the sport, but now it is more common for equipment to be designed specifically for the event. Plus the Olympic racing format is unique, with proposals for Paris 2024 even further removed from what is most common in the sport. Is this a good trend?

The view of what our sport is can vary given how diverse it is. The Olympic courses typically reflect variations of the windward-leeward scheme, but is that all we ever do or have ever done? It’s not what offshore sailors do. I’ve just come back from the Youth Olympics in Buenos Aires, and they had hurdles on the kite course. This was very popular, so I’m just saying the definition of sailing, in that it always is going around marks, isn’t what everyone does.

I think we have for many, many years been putting Olympic sailing into this definition of sailing that some people feel is how it should be. You could also turn it the other way to say if you have 10 medals at the Olympics, shouldn’t they then represent the broad spectrum of sailing? Don’t get me wrong, it should all be on a very high level, of course, but given the massive diversity in sailing, why do we present a relatively narrow program.

What I’m trying to say is I don’t think we should change our sport per se, but I think when you are having a venue at the Olympics with 10 disciplines, then let’s try and have a decent discussion about how do we best represent the diversity in the sport the best way we can do it.

This is a discussion which we never really get to because the existing classes don’t want change. However, I think World Sailing should take care of the sport as a whole, and not just taking care of the Olympic classes as it seems to be going here, setting the framework for what we should do and what we shouldn’t do.

It is interesting to look back at what my friend Paul Elvstrøm said in 1992 when discussing the boats used in the Olympics. As we continue to pick away and make small changes, Paul observed how it is not possible to have a satisfactory result by making small changes, but rather we need to start from the beginning, to start all over again to get the renewal everyone asks for.

However, he also anticipated how that would likely not happen, noting that as long as his old friends sit as class officers and in the top of the IYRU then, which of course now is World Sailing, things are hopeless to change. But if Paul were alive today, and fit enough, I believe he would go kite surfing.

I’m not saying he’s right because I have to think the way we’ve been driving our sport is the reason why we are 144 nations strong. I think in the Olympics you should show a development part and at the same time, you need to show some classical elements which is part of our heritage. That is what the Olympics is about, and I think our 2020 program is not too bad but the discussion for 2024 is to what degree we expand from that.

Editor’s note: For the full text of Elvstrøm’s comments regarding the future of Olympic sailing, click here.

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