Evolve or Die, Don’t Change, or Whatever

Published on May 16th, 2019

by Craig Leweck, Scuttlebutt
The World Sailing annual Mid-Year Meeting is to be held May 17-19 in London, England. The 2019 edition will have a heavy focus on the Paris 2024 Olympics as the Events and Equipment Committees and Council discuss strategies, and I can already guarantee that whatever decisions are made will be viewed as wrong by somebody.

There’s the ‘entitled class’ camp, the ‘pro-big people’ group, the ‘evolve-or-die’ sentiment, the ‘consistency counts’ crowd, the ‘our sport is diverse’ faction, and then of course, the ‘whatever World Sailing decides is wrong’ cluster.

“Key personal attributes for these volunteer roles are an appetite for hard but sometimes soul destroying work and a thick skin!” said one notable decision maker. “I am constantly surprised, though should not be, at how some in the sailing media – but not Scuttlebutt – can make everything a negative.”

While there’s a faction which wishes Sailing wasn’t an Olympic sport, it remains a privilege with consequences, chief of which is how to provide an Event program that meets the needs of the International Olympic Committee while also benefiting the broader sport for which World Sailing is the governing body.

It’s an impossible task, and while change has occurred regularly amid the Sailing program since the first Games in 1896, a little recent history sets the table for what will occur this weekend in London.

When the IOC agreed upon the Olympic Agenda 2020 in 2014, it was the guide for which all Olympic sports were to shape their programs. And when I say shape, I mean change. But when World Sailing opted not to change its Events for Tokyo 2020 in the interest of the athletes and nations, the IOC pushed back and reduced Sailing’s quota of athletes from 380 to 350.

All Olympic sports took notice, with World Sailing knowing that a continued disregard to the IOC directive would translate to a further reduction of athletes, or worse, Events. Change had to occur.

So it was after the November 2017 World Sailing Annual Conference when a combined Events and Equipment Committee Working Party was formed to consider and make recommendations on the Sailing Events for the 2024 Olympic Games.

This report (click here) was the guide in 2018 which led to the current slate of Events confirmed in November 2018 that everyone hates, or so it seems. Certainly we hear from the one design classes that got impacted, and the loud voices of the groups previously mentioned. Mad people are just louder than happy people, and hating on government is fashionable these days.

To learn about the nuts and bolts of the Mid-Year Meeting, click here.

Before I share my take on the ten Events, let me first say a massive priority was for Events to have a “unique signature” and for there to be the same number of Events for men and women. This resulted in more mixed Events, and for the Events which had both a Men’s and Women’s fleet, the same equipment was to be used. Here I go:

Men’s and Women’s Windsurfer: The ‘evolve-or-die’ sentiment wants foiling boards, but the ‘consistency counts’ crowd looks to win this round. Change is always costly, and this is an Event which is relied on for high participation. It is an Event where equipment is provided, and more countries can competently sail the suggested RS:X board than a foiling option.

Men’s and Women’s One Person Dinghy: The Laser, which was introduced at the 1996 Olympics, is in the hot seat. A review was conducted for suitable options for this Event in which the RS Aero and the Laser were advanced. A vote for the newish RS Aero is to choose modern equipment, while a vote for the 50 years old Laser is to embrace its massive presence on the planet. What may delay this decision is to see if the Laser Class can resolve its supplier problems.

Mixed Kiteboard: The International Kiteboarding Association (IKA) was the winner for Paris 2024. After getting voted in, and then out for Rio 2016, the IKA is feverously working to ensure they have their act together this time. Expect a box rule for equipment and an innovative competition format that delivers an engaging broadcast Event.

Mixed Two Person Dinghy: Doublehanded dinghy fans lost out as this Event combines what was a Men’s and Women’s Event. It is expected that the 470 will be selected, which has been an Olympic Class since 1976, but the result of this change will cause untold disruption within the class ranks. Getting ten diverse Events with equal medals for men and women had casualties. This was one of them.

Men’s and Women’s Skiff: The Men’s Event began in Sydney 2000 while the Women’s Event joined in Rio 2016. The 49er and 49erFX can do no wrong right now, delivering high performance racing for youthful, athletic competitors. This is a done deal.

Mixed Two Person Multihull: This Event is a win-win as it delivers fast action with mixed teams, checking off two major boxes. Introduced as an Event with the new Nacra 17 at the Rio Games, the Class has evolved now with foiling boards to check another box. This is a done deal.

Mixed Two Person Offshore Keelboat: This new Event for Paris 2024 has launched the most consternation. It replaced the proposed Mixed One-Person Dinghy (that lacked a format or equipment) which had replaced the Men’s One Person Dinghy Heavyweight which the venerable Finn Class had filled since the 1952 Olympics. The Finn Class is bummed, and rightly state how larger men lost an opportunity to compete in the Olympics. While much is to be decided, the intent is to deliver an Event with a unique signature (offshore) that promotes the diversity in the sport (keelboat).

The goal at the Mid-Year Meeting is to make as many decisions as possible regarding the ten Events for Paris 2024 with any lingering issues to be fully confirmed in Bermuda at the World Sailing Annual Conference in November 2019.

To follow an online live stream from the Mid-Year Meetings, click here.

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